Karen Akers


April 8, 2006

Cabaret Review | Karen Akers

At the Algonquin, Karen Akers Explores Kander and Ebb


It's always exciting to hear a singer unearth alternative meanings in a song whose lyrics you've been taking for granted. That's what Karen Akers does with "Maybe This Time," the showstopper Liza Minnelli has been belting out of the ballpark since she introduced it in the film version of "Cabaret." Ms. Minnelli's triumphal interpretation allows no maybes. Even before the fact, she imagines her long-awaited happily-ever-after to be a fait accompli.

But in Ms. Akers's more introspective rendition, you feel the song's underlying desperation and doubt, and realize that its self-described loser in love is probably about to lose again. What Prince Charming would tolerate such gargantuan needs?

"Maybe This Time" is the best known of the 15 songs Ms. Akers performs in her rich and revealing new show, "First You Dream: The Songs of Kander and Ebb," at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. Another ballad, "Isn't This Better" (from the movie "Funny Lady"), which asserts that friendship is preferable to passion, goes even deeper, and Ms. Akers imbues it with a tone of bitter, choked-back disappointment.

Early in the set, Ms. Akers jokes that she will not be performing "New York, New York," even in French (which she speaks and sings fluently). The show's absence of such war horses clears the way for her to explore the subtexts, such as they are, of less familiar material by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Her voice has never been more lustrous and full-bodied or her expressive wingspan so wide. Don Rebic accompanies her on piano, and Brian Glassman on bass.

Ms. Akers mentions that Mr. Ebb, who died in 2004, insisted that there was no such thing stylistically as a Kander and Ebb song, but her program suggests otherwise. Collectively, its brassy, swiveling show tunes, shamelessly self-dramatizing ballads and carousel-like waltzes evoke a hard-shelled urban jungle of dreamers and climbers impatiently grabbing at the brass ring. Relaxation is not an option. As the slangy sidewalk strut of "City Lights" (from "The Act") puts it, "Country air means zilch to me/ I won't breathe nothing I can't see."