When a Lady Loves
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 12, 2005
I had a splendid time visiting the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel and enjoying Karen Akers in her new cabaret show When a Lady Loves. Akers's voice is unique—a contralto, I guess, rich and throaty and full of nuance, especially when she applies her perfect diction to bring either a new or deeper understanding to a song you've heard a million times and thought you knew all there was to know about. Examples: "The Rose," which she did as an encore at the performance I attended, and which suddenly felt sincere in her understated rendition; "I Got Lost in His Arms" (from Annie Get Your Gun), sung lovingly and movingly as the most straightforward of ballads; the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me," put over with a clarity and simplicity that many artists miss as they play with the irresistible melody.
The theme of the show, as the title suggests, is love; all of the numbers deal with this universal subject. The best come at it from surprising angles. Cole Porter's "The Laziest Gal in Town" is the comic highlight: performed atop Don Rebic's piano, with her long, long legs draped luxuriously down the side, the song epitomizes a kind of decadent elegance without making us wish for Dietrich even for a second: it's a hoot. Akers roams around the room a bit for "You've Got Possibilities," the perky charm song from It's a Bird It's a Plane It's SUPERMAN!; she makes its ingenuous aggression quite playful.
More serious are my two favorite numbers of the evening. You almost don't realize she's started singing Rodgers & Hart's "I Wish I Were in Love Again" (from The Boys from Syracuse) until she actually says the title line in the song—she's slowed the thing down and made it wistful and melancholy; it's such a persuasive performance that I don't think the standard peppy patter approach will work for me anymore. And her take on Sondheim's "Like It Was" (from Merrily We Roll Along) feels entirely definitive. She loses herself in songs like this, but she takes us with her to the special place where she's singing them.
The hour-long show also features selections by Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Lionel Bart, Jerome Kern, and De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson. The feeling throughout is of relaxed elegance and sophistication, which Akers and the Oak Room both exude in equal measures; there's a surprising and happy intimacy to the experience as well, and I frequently fancied that Akers was singing directly to me, though I knew she wasn't.