Karen Akers is exclusively singing show tunes in her monthlong spring turn at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. But don’t expect the usual diet of ballads and brassy showstoppers. The repertoire includes “theater songs from another realm” that the slender diva described as being more intense and more profoundly felt.
Akers has a supremely gracious sense of poise and warmth, not to mention the canny ability to break one’s heart with Jacques Brel’s “My Children,” or warm its embers, with “But Alive.” The latter is a Lee Adams-Charles Strouse affirmation of life from “Applause,” the Broadway adaptation of “All About Eve.”
For a blowsy diversion, Akers sings “I Never Do Anything Twice,” a rousing bar room confessional from the Sherlock Holmes film “The Seven Per Cent Solution.” (A technical exception to the show-tune rule.) The stately contralto brings a saucy edge to Stephen Sondheim’s raucous music hall tune.
The evening’s highpoints are a handful of songs from “Grand Hotel” and “Nine,” Tommy Tune productions featuring Akers in pivotal roles. “How Can I Tell Her?” by George Forrest and Robert Wright is a fragmentary tune that for the first time is being heard in its entirety. Fleshed out it becomes a musically compelling piece.
The trilogy from Maury Yeston’s “Nine” includes the two songs sung by Luisa, the moviemaker’s patient wife, and the role originated by Akers. “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Be on Your Own” express the character’s resolve, and Akers also sang “In a Very Unusual Way,” the most familiar song from the 1982 score.
Closer found the chanteuse singing “Somewhere,” adding a second chorus sung in French. The Gallic touch heightened the trenchant Leonard Bernstein-Sondheim hymn of hope from “West Side Story,” and offered a comfort in troubling times. Akers’ act has been has been exquisitely staged and lit. Cabaret doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.