After several seasons at the sorely missed Rainbow and Stars, international chanteuse Karen Akers has moved a few blocks south to make her Oak Room debut at the Algonquin Hotel. With a heady rush of springtime romanticism, the stately singer fills her hour with a sophisticated program of songs braced with continental allure.
While the singer claims there is no set theme for her act — other than a bridge between the Shenandoah and the Seine — the Eiffel Tower stands tall as a centerpiece.
Actually, the traditional and folksy “Shenandoah” seems oddly out of place in her plaintive tribute to Ameri-can ballads and French chanson. The singer appears to be more at home with French tunes and songs about Paris, where the singer makes her home.
Selections associated with Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker and Jacques Brel dominate her repertoire and whether she is singing in French or English, Akers summons enveloping ardency.
Akers builds an imaginary proscenium arch around each song, framing her songs as plaintive little theater pieces of new found love, the ache of love lost and unrequited love, and it’s easy to fall under her spell. She is, flat out, incurably romantic. Clean diction and a warm knowing sense of phrasing dominate her hour.
Homage to the City of Lights is framed in a lyrical trilogy which includes “Not Exactly Paris” — a trademark of the late Nancy La Mott — the witty “Paris in the Rain” and “Paris is a Lonely Town.”
The latter by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg from the 1963 cartoon “Gay Pur-ee,” was initially introduced by Judy Garland. Akers revives the forgotten torcher with a bluesy arrangement by Michael Abene.
The extraordinary young Australian singer, Kane Alexander, joined Akers in a duet of “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget.” The tune by Alan Jay Lerner and Charles Strouse from “Dance a Little Closer,” is a lost treasure from the 1983 flop, and the pair make it a bittersweet reflective trip.
In a tribute to ’40s Dorsey bandsinger and ultimately solo chart topper, Jo Stafford — the lady known in the industry for her perfect pitch — Akers revives “Haunted Heart.”
The richly melodic and seldom heard show tune by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, has reached new audi-ences as a torchy serenade, sung by Stafford, on the soundtrack of “End of the Affair.” Akers faces its “ghost of a lost romance” head on with lyrical heartbreak.
Another plus is Steven Schwartz’ “Chanson” from “The Baker’s Wife,” which is a picturesque postcard nod to the French countryside. “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (No Regrets), the haunting Piaf signature featured on Akers’ DRG CD “Under Paris Skies,” remains her trademark closer.