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Karen Oberlin: Heart and Soul

The rising cabaret star offers a fitting and engaging tribute to the centenary of Frank Loesser. logo
Karen Oberlin
(© Benjamin Niemczyk)
With the fanfare for Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday having died down, music lovers can now safely turn their attention to another birthday boy, Frank Loesser, who would have turned 100 on June 29. And there's perhaps no more fititng start to the festivities than rising cabaret star Karen Oberlin's new show Heart and Soul, which is playing the Algonquin Hotel's famed Oak Room through June 19.

This well-craftled, smartly directed (by Eric Michael Gillett) and decidedly engaging act is a superb introduction to the composer-lyricist's talent for tunefulness and witty wordplay, which can be heard in everything from "The Inch Worm" to "Snug as a Bug in a Rug."

Better still, it's also a show that will please Loesser's longtime fans -- some of whom may even find a song or two they don't know, such as "Bloop, Bleep!" "Lovelier Than Ever," and a pair of songs cut from two of Loesser's big Broadway hits: "Traveling Light" (written for Guys and Dolls) and "Wanting to Be Wanted" (written for The Most Happy Fella).

And if no 70-minute show could cover all the bases of Loesser's incredibly prolific if too-short career, Oberlin makes sure to mix it up, showcasing some of his best comic numbers, including "Hamlet," "Rumble, Rumble, Rumble," and "Love Isn't Born (It's Made)" even though these large-spirited songs don't particularly suit her rather delicate vocal instrument.

She even throws in the delightful "Then I Wrote the Minuet in G," for which Loesser wrote the lyrics and Ludwig von Beethoven penned the music, and ably duets with musical director Jon Weber on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Her slam-bang take on "I Believe In You" not only whets the appetite for the upcoming Broadway revival of How to Succceed in Business Without Really Trying, it's one of the act's highlights.

Still, Loesser was never more brilliant than when penning a heartfelt ballad or plaintive love song, and Oberlin proves most masterful in tackling the show's title song, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," "More I Cannot Wish You," and especially "I Wish I DIdn't Love You So." The 20th Century was lucky to have Loesser, and the 21st Century is equally lucky to have singers like Karen Oberlin making sure his work lives on.

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