Karen Akers and Stephen Sondheim make a perfect match. Sondheim’s approach to his music and lyrics is sophisticated and intellectual, but also heartfelt and attuned to the human condition and the emotions with which we struggle. He also can simply have a good time with a song.
Akers brings an ultra sophisticated aura to her cabaret performing, approaches music and lyrics with intellectual precision, digs deep into emotions with clarity, yet also communicates a sense of fun. All of which renders her new show “Live, Laugh, Love: Akers Sings Sondheim,” at the Oak Room Supper Club of the Algonquin Hotel (September 27-Octotber 29, 2011), a very sensible and enjoyable pairing.
Akers’ range is impressive. On the one hand, looking regal and beautiful as she commands the stage with the elegance and eloquence that have become her trademark, she can dig deeply into such Sondheim treasures as “I Wish I Could Forget You” from ”Passion,” “Losing My Mind” from “Follies” and the iconic “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music.” But she also puts an amusing spin on zippier Sondheim numbers.
Take “Let Me Entertain You” from “Gypsy.” Akers gets the right mixture of sexuality and good taste—nothing vulgar here. She does the number looking ever so classy but with underling sex appeal. It is similar with “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from “Gypsy,” the number in which strippers chant about the gimmicks required to stand out. Nothing vulgar there either. Akers can give enough of a suggestive body movement to capture the humor in the number while still maintaining her upscale style.
A joy throughout is the total effectiveness of her interpretations via her exquisite, fine-tuned voice. Also, there is no contemporary singer who brings more sharpness to every word in a lyric, really every syllable, so that each little meaning is brought to the fore with effectiveness.
There are numerous special pleasures, to cite a few, including her rendition of “More,” from “Dick Tracy,” “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” from “Follies, “Remember” from “A Little Night Music,” “Not a Day Goes By” from “Merrily We Roll Along” and “What More Do I Need?” from “Saturday Night.”
Akers strikes a good balance singing the acerbic “Could I Leave You?” from “Follies.” There is not the outrage and fury that Jan Maxwell angrily displays in her tour de force interpretation of the number in the current “Follies” revival. But Akers gets enough hostility to go with the sarcasm to make the song work nicely for projecting feelings in a mode in keeping with her own cabaret persona.
Her new show has been directed by Eric Michael Gillett, and her musical director is Don Rebic, who does his customary accompaniment wonders at the piano. At the end on opening night she introduced from the audience the eminent Julie Wilson as her inspiration. Akers is certainly carrying on the Wilson tradition, and this is yet another good opportunity to enjoy her in action--and in the appropriate setting. At the Oak Room, Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street. Reservations: 212-419-9331 or firstname.lastname@example.org