Karen Oberlin
Karen Oberlin
To launch her new CD devoted to the music of Doris Day, cabaret artist Karen Oberlin has brought her award-winning act Secret Love: A Tribute to the True Doris Day back to Danny's Skylight Room. So strong is the memory of Day and the so-called "sophisticated" sex comedies she made with Rock Hudson in the late 1950s and '60s that most of us still think of her as the world's oldest living virgin. Oberlin, matching exquisite singing with pithy and charming patter, contends that the star might also be one of America's most underrated vocalists.

Oberlin tells us that Day intended to be a dancer but, just before she was to leave Cincinnati to pursue that career in Los Angeles, a car accident mangled her right leg. Doctors told her she might not walk again, but she recovered and turned to singing as the main outlet for her talent. Day was working with a big band by the time she was 16; it was, in fact, bandleader Barney Rapp who gave Doris Von Kappelhoff her new name. Oberlin, performing the music that Day then began to sing and record, conjures up the evolving artistry of a song stylist who would soon become a movie star.

In this show, deftly directed by Scott Barnes, Oberlin celebrates rather than emulates Day as she sings some of the songs that the star made famous -- and what a celebration it is. Listen to Oberlin's version of "While the Music Plays On," a ballad about a band singer forced to perform as her ex-lover dances with his new flame right in front of her. This performance of the heart-blistering song (which Day recorded at 16) is among Oberlin's most riveting moments, but then, the show is like a mountain range in that it's full of such peaks. Oberlin provides a touching context for Day's first major hit record, "Sentimental Journey," noting that it was released in 1945 and spoke directly to the nostalgia felt by so many servicemen upon returning home from war. "The Night We Called it a Day" is a bluesy ballad that Oberlin wraps her velvet voice around. And you may never hear a more poignant "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" than this singer's delicate, loving rendition.

Doris Day, back in the day
Doris Day, back in the day
Oberlin is gorgeous enough to be a movie star but, unlike so many of today's young and beautiful singers, she doesn't try to be sexy: No posing, no posturing, no faking for her. There is a fundamental honesty and confidence in Oberlin's persona that comes through not just in her attitude but in her approach to the music. She doesn't show off with frills and trills or add extra syllables to words to extend a note; the songs in her show may have jazzy arrangements (courtesy of her talented musical director, Tedd Firth) but Oberlin sings them with full attention to the lyrics, offering what you might call "cabaret jazz."

Nor are Oberlin's talents confined to performance. She also wrote additional, very clever lyrics to a patter tune called "I'd Rather Be With You," which she sings as a duet with the game Firth; on her CD, she performs this number with the smooth and urbane Eric Comstock. Karen Oberlin: Secret Love -- The Music of Doris Day, on the Miranda Music label, features many (though not all) of the songs in her current show. This is an album rich with sensitivity, style, and musical elegance; it captures the essence of Doris Day as a band singer and of Karen Oberlin as a cabaret balladeer.

Oberlin has four more shows at Danny's: Tuesday, September 3 at 7pm; Monday, September 9 at 9:15pm; Monday, September 16 at 9:15pm; and Monday, September 30 at 9:15pm.

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[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]