Photo credit: Dave Goodside
“Why is it that civilized humanity
Can make the world so wrong?
In this hurly-burly of insanity
Our dreams cannot last long.”
And with these somewhat gloomy lyrics from Noel Coward’s bluesy, somewhat gloomy “20th Century Blues” (written for the film “Cavalcade” in 1931), Karen Akers began her show Sing The Shadows Away: Songs of Doubt and Reassurance. Here she has taken the liberty of retitling the song, one of her staples, to “21stCentury Blues.” “It scanned. So we could be accurate. Sort of a novel concept these days,” she noted after greeting the room with a cheerful “Hello, Welcome, I hope I didn’t scare you.”
The song was a perfect way to begin a show that is all about facing the shadows in which we currently find ourselves. As she stated, “The sooner we face them, the sooner we could be comforted. Or even amused.”
And an hour spent with Ms. Akers is certainly comforting, definitely amusing, even hilariously funny. And blissful. At once regal, gracious, and warm, she immediately invited one into her world, captivating her audience in wryly funny conversation (it can’t really be called patter when she engaged so intimately with everyone in the room), and sharing her perfectly chosen songs in that marvelous voice of hers – a luxuriously rich mixture of honey, chocolate, and whiskey which remains as fresh and vibrant as ever. And what a set of songs she shared! With superb support from pianist Jeff Harris, Akers proved again and again in song after song why she is in the top tier of cabaret performers. An old chestnut, the hauntingly beautiful “Dancing In The Dark (Dietz and Schwartz, The Band Wagon, 1931) was paired with the new “Dance With Me” (Mark Sonnenblick) in a wonderfully touching medley; “Whistling In The Dark” (Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, written for the film “Darling Lily,” 1970), was another perfect choice, both for the show and her voice. Swinging her way through Sondheim’s “Live Alone And Like It” (written for the film “Dick Tracy,” 1990), she negotiated the tricky syncopations with insouciant glee, and then killed with another Sondheim: “Water Under The Bridge” (written for the un-produced film “Singing Out Loud, 1992), which she referred to as “the only full-length play on offer tonight” with tongue firmly in cheek. Which wasn’t quite true, as she later performed “The Animal In The Pit,” (Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh, Compose Yourself, 2008), a lengthy, pithy paen to a quick Mexican Divorce (“It’s an odd song, isn’t it?” she mused. “We think of it as the ‘independent movie portion of our show.’”)
Among other highlights: “Torch Song,” a ditty about the Statue of Liberty “given” to her “years ago” by composer Stephen Flaherty, in which she makes a joke at her own expense with the lyric “who wants a date with a tall green lady?” As she commented: “That has to be one of the silliest songs I’ve ever covered.” Perhaps, but sublimely so. A slyly witty reading of Noel Coward’s poem “Epitaph For An Elderly Actress” offered a terrific change of pace, and, of course, she ended the show with her signature song, the song no one does better than she does: “Non, Je Ne Regret Rien” (Dumont and Vaucaire, 1956), which she prefaced by saying “We make so many choices in our life, day after day, and we never really know if we get them right, you know? … The best we can hope for is to be able to go forward with no serious regrets, to be able to let go, if need be, and to always recommit ourselves completely to love. Here’s how that can feel.”
And as she performed the song with the freshness and vitality that was the hallmark of the whole evening, it felt exhilarating, indeed.
Akers will return to The Beach Café on Saturday December 15 at 9:30; for one more marvelous moment, she will offer a respite from the cares of the outside world and somehow make everything seem alright, leaving one with a warm glow that will last for days.
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