Karen Akers, the stately international chanteuse, is back in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel for a monthlong spring serenade. In her new program, “When Love Speaks to You,” Akers fills the room with breathless languor, framing her love songs with vibrant emotional clarity.
Akers has exquisite diction and a pliable contralto voice, and she can plumb the depths of a love song to reveal either its inner pain or its heart-leaping joy. The new program is nicely balanced, with hardy reliable standards and a few trenchant new surprises, like “(Spring Came Too Late and) You Left Too Soon,” by Kathy King-Wouk. Ouch!
In a reflective farewell to the long-running Off Broadway musical “The Fantasticks,” Akers offers “They Were You” and “Try to Remember.” They remain fondly savored souvenirs. The best from the past is “I See Your Face Before Me,” by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, with its fervent “glitter and glow” verse. Akers brings an actor’s knowing insight to a lyric.
A trio of songs are dubbed the stories of “three tall women”: a rare Rodgers and Hart ditty, “Queen Elizabeth,” from the 1926 “Garrick Gaieties”; Sondheim’s “Ah, But Underneath” from “Follies”; and Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman.” It’s an inspired trilogy.
No Akers performance is complete without the continental touch. The lady’s French interpretations are impeccably savory. The late Jacques Brel, who set love’s longing to music with “Marieke,” has become an Akers staple, as has Piaf, repped by “Padam Padam,” echoing the remorse of a love gone wrong.
Everyone seems to be doing Randy Newman lately. For an encore, Akers sings “Feels Like Home,” the title song from her recent DRG CD. It is, indeed, good to have her home again.