Karen Akers
Karen Akers
The extraordinary love songs of Rodgers & Hart are clearly catnip to cabaret singers: Mary Cleere Haran and Andrea Marcovicci have devoted whole shows to them, and Barbara Cook, Paula West, and Jessica Molaskey are just a few of the chanteuses who have performed these sublime collaborations. So perhaps it's not entirely surprising that Karen Akers is performing an entire evening of the pair's work, Dancing on the Ceiling, at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room. What is surprising is how often the statuesque singer makes even the most standard standard sound fresh.

Some of the credit for the show's success belongs to musical director Don Rebic and director Eric Michael Gillett for their savvy choices. For example, a pairing of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "My Romance" beautifully emphasizes the song's mature outlook on love. Given Akers' pronounced love of singing in French, having her perform "C'est Un Nid Charmant" -- Josephine Baker's French version of "There's A Small Hotel" -- is tres charmant indeed.

Moreover, throwing in a few updated references to "The Lady Is a Tramp" -- in which Akers gave perhaps one of the loosest and most enjoyable performances of her career -- was a delightful move. And adding a smattering of lesser-known songs, such as the show's title tune, "This Funny World," and "A Lady Must Live," keeps audiences from having that "been there-done-that" feeling.

It was hard to tell on opening night if Rebic's boldest choice really worked -- a version of "I Wish I Were In Love" in which the first section was performed wistfully (and with musical underscoring of "Blue Moon") and the second section was suddenly turned a fierce, 11 o'clock-style ballad -- since Akers slipped up on a few of the words and had a bit of trouble with the arrangement's offbeat rhythms. My sense is that it will score big when done perfectly, but it's still perhaps unnecessarily complicated.

Indeed, simplicity proved to outshine everything else, as Akers' beautifully articulated, gorgeously phrased, and impeccably thought-out versions of "My Heart Stood Still," "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "My Funny Valentine," and, most especially "It Never Entered My Mind" lingered in this listener's mind long after the show was over.