Live, Laugh, Love
Akers Sings Sondheim
Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room
New York, NY
The 2010 occasion of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday began a tsunami of
concerts, musical revivals and cabaret tributes. We thought we’d heard it all.
Leave it to the sublime Karen Akers to present an original and very personal take
on an evening of the master’s work. Breaking her show into sections titled “Live,”
“Laugh” (“not laugh-out-loud funny, but wit, style and acute self awareness”) and
“Love” after the song in Follies, Akers offers a sequentially seamless mix tilting
towards lesser-known songs (treasures).
Beginning with the eager optimism of “Take the Moment” (with Richard Rodgers from Do I Hear a
Waltz?) through a rendition of “Let Me Entertain You” (with Jule Styne from Gypsy)—without flash,
sass, or hip, likely as low key and stylish as Gypsy Rose Lee would have performed it—to the showstoppingly gorgeous “Water Under the Bridge” (according to Ms. Akers from Singing Out Loud, a
Barbra Streisand film that never got made), we take the life journey of a woman who has hoped,
resigned herself, risen to the occasion, loved, lost and looks back with grace.
Listening to the coupling of “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” and “Ah, But Underneath” (both from
Follies, the less familiar latter written for the London production) is like peeling the character Phyllis’s
veneer like an onion: “She was smart, tart, dry as a martini/ Ah, but underneath/She was all heart,
something by Puccini/ Ah, but underneath.” Pairing “I Wish I Could Forget You” (Passion) with
“Losing My Mind” (Follies) creates a progression so natural, it’s as if they arose out of a single
emotional arc. The thought behind this entertainment is evident and rewarding.
Akers may have the most expressive face in cabaret. She could easily have been a silent film star.
Her phrasing is impeccable, her bearing innately patrician. The stillness from which she
communicates puts every ounce of energy and focus into a lyric, making feelings palpable.
Only the shoulders rise with high notes as she fills with song. Bridging patter is brief, apt, warm and
enlightening. Her slightly smoky contralto is smooth and strong. A wonderful show, beautifully
directed by Eric Michael Gillett, with pianist and Musical Director Don Rebic and Dick Sarpola on
Karen Akers continues at the Oak Room through Oct. 29.
September 28, 2011