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Akers Sings Sondheim: Live, Laugh, Love

Cabaret singer Karen Akers' tribute show to Stephen Sondheim once again reminds us of the composer-lyricist's genius. logo
Karen Akers
(© Paul Greco)
After last year's myriad 80th birthday celebrations for Stephen Sondheim, one could forgive even the most fervent devotees of the master composer-lyricist if they never wanted to hear another of his internal rhymes or tricky melodies. But fortunately, as the brilliant Broadway revival of Follies, the venerable Elaine Stritch, and Phil Geoffrey Bond's Sondheim Unplugged series have potently reminded us, there truly is never too much of a good thing.

Now Karen Akers has added to the belated celebration with Akers Sings Sondehim: Live, Laugh, Love, at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room. And even if this outing is not as successfully conceived or executed as some of her previous tribute shows -- she has some trouble navigating Sondheim's rhythms (and was understandably distracted on Wednesday night by a horribly disruptive couple in the back) -- there's plenty to savor in many of her renditions of these delicious songs.

The show takes its subtitle -- and its concept -- from the final song in Follies. The opening section, "Live," offers myriad pleasures, including a take on "Moments in the Woods" (from Into the Woods) that smartly travels from self-laceration to self-acceptance, joyous versions on the under-appreciated "Live Alone and Like It" and the tongue-twisting "More," (both from the film Dick Tracy), and a haunting pairing of "Beautiful" (from Sunday in the Park With George) and "I Remember" (from the 1967 television musical Evening Primrose).

I wish Akers had made some different choices for the "Laugh" section, although no one can argue with the gusto she brings to "Broadway Baby" (from Follies) and the opening section of "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" (from Gypsy). Indeed, the latter song could have been fabulous if she had gotten even more help from music director Don Rebic and bassist Dick Scarpola, who chime in towards the end.

While I can understand why she wanted to perform all three songs Sondheim wrote for the character of Phyllis Stone in Follies, only "Ah But Underneath" (which was penned for Diana Rigg in the show's London production) is truly triumphant. She does fine by "The Story of Lucy and Jessie," but the song doesn't really soar without its choreography, and while her take on "Could I Leave You?" has a little sting, it simply pales in comparison to Jan Maxwell's current volcanic version or Donna Murphy's recent, peerless rendition.

Not surprisingly, Akers fares strongest with the "Love" section of the show, notably in a perfectly put-together grouping of sections of "Good Thing Going" (from Merrily We Roll Along), "Loving You" (from Passion), and "Not A Day Goes By" (also from Merrily) that succinctly expresses the joy of new love. She brings a wealth of deep feeling to "I Wish I Could Forget You" (from Passion) and "Losing My Mind" (from Follies) -- although pairing them simply diminishes each song's singular power -- and scores strongly with "Send in the Clowns" (from A Little Night Music).

Akers ends the show with "Goodbye for Now" (from Reds), but let's hope she's not ready to say goodbye forever to the music of Stephen Sondheim. I know I'm not.

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