A stately, tall figure in a burgundy gown, with a huge satin bow, Karen Akers is once again gracing the stage at the Oak Room. “Time After Time,” a program of love songs, takes its title from the Sinatra film classic, penned by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. In her six-week run, the thrush is offering a new program of old standards that continue to resonate with varied degrees of despair and joy. Akers is a New Yorker and London resident blessed with a heady dose of continental allure. She possesses a strong, pliant contralto voice, and her diction and phrasing are marked by a keen theatrical awareness.
Akers voices what she labels “invisible baggage” when she sings the Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson lament “It Never Was You.” Her show focuses upon timeless songs that evoke an emotional approach to life, best demonstrated by the Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer confessional “I’m Old Fashioned,” or the perfect antidote revealed in “Just One of Those Things,” Cole Porter’s curt dismissal of a fling.
There is a lovely unspoken testimonial to composer Bart Howard, who died in February at 88. He was one of Mabel Mercer’s favorite composers, and “You Are Not My First Love” is a sweet remembrance of his talent. The song is the epitome of elegant latenight cabaret repertoire, and Akers reveals its midnight mood, softly and eloquently.
It seems like every chanteuse in town is doing “Send in the Clowns” these springtime evenings. No complaints from this corner. The reflective Stephen Sondheim lament has held up beautifully for over three decades, and Akers invests the song with her usual flair. The piece is included in her new DRG disc, “If We Only Have Love,” due for release in early June.
No Akers performance is complete without a touch of continental amour. The haunting old Alex North movie theme “Unchained Melody” is given an Italian setting — “Senza catene” — and for a heavy dose of toujours l’amour, there is Edith Piaf’s “If You Love Me Really Me.” Akers knows how to deliver the oo-la-la, and there is no better spring tonic in town.