The fall cabaret season continues without pause at the Algonquin’s august Oak Room, where Karen Akers is celebrating a beatifically modulated salute to the rich, harmonic melodies of Richard Rodgers and the witty, urbane, but often tortured lyrics of Lorenz Hart. Statuesque, courtly, with an understated elegance that reminds me of the late Portia Nelson, Karen generously includes the verses on exquisite works of art that give an older, wiser crowd what it wants in time-tested songs while allowing a younger audience to “access” an important part of the Great American Songbook and learn something.
Wrapping her throaty alto pipes around handpicked classics, draped in a sleeveless hunter-green French silk charmeuse with a skip rope of pearls, she is the essence of class. And her songs match her refinement with moment-to-moment taste. What could be more musically epicurean than “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was,” melting into “My Romance”? You get a rooted feeling for Hart’s rueful aborted romantic heartbreak on “Glad to Be Unhappy” and “Can’t You Do a Friend a Favor?” But don’t dress up for depression. She accentuates the positive on “Lady Is a Tramp” and the naughty lyric line that got “A Lady Must Live” banned from the airwaves in 1931 (“With my John and my Max/ I can reach a climax/ That’s proof positive/ That a lady must live”). Thanks to the pulsating bass lines of Dick Sarpola and the clever arrangements by pianist Don Rebic, the show never runs out of surprises. “I Wish I Were in Love Again” is taken at a much slower, relaxed paced than you remember from the frantic violence of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and she’s so warm, polished and soignée that I can even forgive her for my least favorite Rodgers-Hart song, the hackneyed old bore “My Funny Valentine.” When you can make that one sound relevant any other month besides February, you have earned your applause. Bathed in the glow of Karen Akers singing Rodgers and Hart, that applause does not diminish. Through Oct. 23.