Celebrating the centennial of the great, prolific songwriter Frank Loesser (he’d be 100 on June 29), a Christmas tree angel named Karen Oberlin is lighting up the Algonquin’s Oak Room through June 19 with a 70-minute show that sends you out humming. With accomplished pianist Jon Weber and ace bass player Sean Smith providing balance and warm support, the lovely Ms. Oberlin sails through 21 songs that remain timeless. From “Heart and Soul,” every teenager’s after-school parlor song, to a particularly bouncy group of showstoppers introduced on the screen by bombastic Betty Hutton and even some cool advice-to-the-lovelorn called “Love Isn’t Born, It’s Made” (a terrific number written for It Girl Ann Sheridan in Thank Your Lucky Stars), you get a delicious, eclectic Whitman’s sampler of the Loesser catalog. She doesn’t have Betty Hutton’s punch or drive, but I loved the bebop jawbreakers
(“The name of this omelet … is Hamlet!”), and she excels on love songs. Her reserve and class shine through on “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” and especially “Wanting to be Wanted,” a splendid ballad unwisely deleted from The Most Happy Fella, where it was sung by leading lady Jo Sullivan, who later became Mrs. Frank Loesser. She explores the composer’s comedic talents as well as his heartbreaking sensitivity on love songs in shows (Guys and Dolls, Where’s Charley?, The Most Happy Fella) and movies (Hans Christian Andersen, The Perils of Pauline). A special delight: the sweet, melodic lilt of pianist Jon Weber’s singing voice blending with Ms. Oberlin on a dreamier than usual “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” the Oscar-winning Esther Williams-Ricardo Montalban duet from the MGM musical Neptune’s Daughter. Subtle, elegant and musically spot on, Karen Oberlin is such a welcome addition to the often noisy and pointless cabaret scene that one can even imagine her accompanied by a celesta without causing the slightest hint of boredom. She’s a keeper.
The Algonquin’s Oak Room