Dick Gallagher and Patti LuPone(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Dick Gallagher and Patti LuPone
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Even as we head into the stretch of the 2003-2004 theater season, New York's nightclubs not only threatened to steal our attention away from the legitimate stage -- they succeeded! How could they fail to do so with the back-to-back openings this past Tuesday and Wednesday of Patti LuPone at Feinstein's at the Regency and Karen Akers at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room? Add these to last week's openings of Steve Ross at the Stanhope and Julie Wilson at Helen's Hideaway, and you've got an incredibly high-quality quartet performing in New York right now. The

Patti LuPone's show alone might actually cost a king's ransom, but you'll be glad you paid it -- if you can get in. This is the star's first New York nightclub appearance in many years but the intimacy of the medium is so well suited to her open, unshielded personality that she immediately connects with the audience and the lovefest begins.

The show is called The Lady With the Torch because virtually every song in it deals with love lost or gone wrong. Conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the program is immaculately constructed. LuPone doesn't talk much between songs but, with economy and wit, she artfully sets up each number in this tour of heartbreak, beginning and ending the act with "By Myself" (Schwartz-Dietz). From the melancholy "A Cottage for Sale" (Willard Robinson-Larry Conley) to the fiercely vengeful "I Wanna Be Around" (Johnny Mercer-Sadie Zimmerstedt), LuPone sings with compelling emotional fervor.

The song selections are exquisite; LuPone sings obscure but wonderful numbers alongside torch classics, offering an antipasto of passion. Taste the bitter tears of "Something Cool" (Billy Barnes) and then marvel as Patti bites into "I'll Wind" (Arlen/Koehler) with a bluesy belt. Some songs are sly, others are ruefully observant, yet others are deeply romantic as the torch of love keeps on burning. With Dick Gallagher at the piano lending his delicate arrangements to LuPone's unfailing vocals, this one-hour show puts most of today's Broadway musicals to shame. LuPone and Gallagher continue at Feinstein's through April 24.

********************

Karen Akers(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Karen Akers
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Over at the Oak Room, Karen Akers has just begun a six-week engagement that will continue through May 15. Her show is titled Time After Time: An Evening of Standards. Akers has a well-earned reputation for bringing a European sophistication to the cabaret stage, often singing in French. While that sophistication remains, the material is changing; last year, she put together an evening of theater songs that many (including us) thought was her best act to date. This new show builds on that exceptional experience, bringing us songs that were either born on stage or in the movies but eventually broke loose of their moorings to become stand-alone American classics.

The striking Ms. Akers, who has cheekbones as unforgettable as the songs she sings, performs with a grace and style that are uniquely her own. The once cool and aloof cabaret star has melted over the past few years into a warm and winsome entertainer. Perhaps that's thanks in part to the the American music she's singing? Whatever the reason, we're delighted to witness the evolution of her performance style. And we're even happier to hear her sing such songs as "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (George & Ira Gershwin), "It Never Was You" (Weill-Anderson), and "I'm Old Fashioned" (Kern-Mercer).

Okay, she still sings some material in French, including Edith Piaf's "Hymne a L'Amour" ("If You Love Me, Really Love Me"), and she gives a stunning rendition of "Unchained Melody" in Italian. But the show lives and breathes in Akers' ability to read a lyric in songs like "Comes Love" (Stept-Brown & Tobias), "Just One of Those Things" (Cole Porter), or in combinations like "Falling in Love with Love" (Rodgers & Hart) into "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (Styne-Cahn). In every instance, she makes you hear these songs line by line, revealing their theatrical roots. These standards aren't just songs; they're stories.

********************

[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegelentertainment@msn.com.]