Karen Akers: Move On
The cabaret artist's often triumphant new show at the Algonquin Hotel may be her most personal statement.
Her show, directed by Eric Michael Gillett, is all about dealing with those crucial moments when we stand at a crossroads in our lives. Decisions, for better or worse, have to be made and what we do will affect us forever after. While this may sound like heady stuff for a tourist-room cabaret act, Akers always keeps her theme wrapped in music that is either witty or winsome -- and oftentimes moving.
The show is structured as a procession from starting over in life (and love), with a prologue section devoted to "I'm Checking Out," and "Ready to Begin," before progressing into the Stephen Sondheim title song. That's followed by the cabaret standard "Where Do You Start?" sung with a fervent sense of searching and a deep-seated need. There is humor in the journey, as well, including recitations of poems by Dorothy Parker and her playful turn at Francesca Blumenthal's clever "Between Men."
"Job Application" from the musical Ballroom, a wry and poignant song about a housewife forced back into the work force without any experience except wife and mother, is one of the show's highlights. That musical also provides the show's centerpiece number, "A Terrific Band and a Real Nice Crowd," which deals directly with making a choice between letting life pass you by or (literally) heading up the stairs to join life's dance.
Her performance of the French standard "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" should be the act's penultimate moment, but the song comes too soon in the program, blunting its emotional power. Instead, she follows it with Barry Kleinbort's gentle "The Kindest Man," Maury Yeston's melancholy "I Had a Dream About You," and the even darker "Since You Stayed Here" (from the Off-Broadway musical Brownstone). She misses yet another chance to deliver a roundhouse punch when she stops in the middle of the affecting "At the Rialto" (from John Kander and Fred Ebb's All About Us) to thank her musicians, Dick Sarpola on bass and Don Rebic at the piano.
Despite these missteps, she recovers with the powerful "I Was Here" (from the Ahrens-Flaherty musical The Glorious Ones), a song that eloquently speaks to the decisions she's made as both a woman and an artist. It's more than a summation, it's an affirmation. Not to mention a triumph.