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BWW Review: KAREN AKERS brings Legendary Style to The Beach Cafe

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BWW Review: KAREN AKERS brings Legendary Style to The Beach Cafe

Karen Akers holds that rarest of interpretive gifts: she makes a song feel as if you are experiencing it for the first time. Reimagining Cole Porter's "It's Alright By Me" as a haunted beguine, she begins tremulous; a would be lover breathless with anticipation - the eyes downcast - coy - but twinkling with desire even as her clarion soprano announces:

It's the wrong time and the wrong place / Though your face is charming it's the wrong face / It's not his face but such a charming face / That it's all right with me...

And for a moment, in this bleeding heart and earnest invitation so consumed with girlish resignation, you may even forget the legendary cabaret artist in front of you has been seducing us with her presence (make that presents) for nearly forty years. That ability to surprise and bewitch has, in truth, always been Karen Akers' trademark. From her earliest days as an unexpected chanteuse at Reno Sweeney's in the Village, to her surprising Tony nominated performances under Tommy Tune's Svengali in NINE and GRAND HOTEL, Akers has long held (and continues to reign over) our endless fascination.

Now appearing in a monthly residence at The Beach Cafe, Manhattan's most intimate cabaret, Ms. Akers' artistry - in resplendent form - is also revealed to be something else; the singer, always celebrated for her wit and regal elegance, in such close quarters, is also deeply and beautifully human.

It doesn't hurt either, that in celebrating the genius of Cole Porter (at her October 26th show) Akers, a tower of stylish intelligence and wistful vulnerability has found her perfect lyrical confidante.

Traversing a gorgeously crafted evening that follows the cosmopolitan songwriter on his jaunts from Manhattan to Paris and even a supermarket in Old Peking, Akers, with delicate phrasing and crystalline diction, mines Porter's clever drollery and sophisticated word play with singular fashion. Indeed, to experience Akers, with languid limb and flowing robes, tickle the playful parable of "The Tale of the Oyster" or shrug through the exasperated irony of "The Physician" is to see and hear Porter as Porter himself intended.

But it is in the songwriter's ballads and blues - a complicated mix of joy and sadness, optimism and bravery - that have stymied many of the greats that Akers' singular interpretive powers move front and center. With imperial stature (and cheekbones) that suggest European nobility, Akers, often speaking between songs with Porter's own words, addresses the composer's troubled dreams and emotional needs that were never met with fragile openness and tender yearning.

Akers' voice, once described as a 'bell like quicksilver' has, with time, deepened and ripened into a woody oboe - more lush, more robust, and, in truth, more beautiful. And in her care, Porter favorites like "Where Have You Been?," "Who Said Gay Paree?," and "I Get a Kick Out of You" are, in turns, alluring, plaintive and blithely flirtatious, and each a uniquely theatrical and insightful monologue of the human psyche. Not that Akers here is devoid of a measure of good old fashioned fun. Occasionally tripping over the lyrics to Porter's most exhausting list songs (we aren't sure exactly how many verses there are to Porter's perennial favorite "There is No Trick to a Can Can," but at last count it seems to be in the umpteen hundreds) the occasional folly divulges the high priestess of cabaret, guided adroitly throughout by musical director Alex Rybeck, to be a relaxed and often hilarious good sport.

Opening her show with a mischievous medley of "I'm Throwing a Ball Tonight" and Porter's most jubilant celebration: "Ridin' High," Karen Akers' choice seems prophetic: what could be a more swell party than this? Striding to the stage with a playful gait and a toss back of that noble chin, Akers seems to already know what we will discover is inevitable; the chance to experience such virtuosity of an artist on top of her game, especially in such cozy chambers as the Beach Cafe is a coquettish dance that is simply irresistible.

Karen Akers performs at The Beach Cafe on November 30 and December 21.

For tickets visit The Beach Cafe.

For more information on Karen Akers visit her website at www.karenakers.com

Photographs by Stephen Mosher

BWW Review: KAREN AKERS brings Legendary Style to The Beach Cafe


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From This Author Brady Schwind