By Sharon Eberson
Karen Akers, all slender 6 feet of her, appeared on stage late Monday night in a high neck-to-floor rose red dress, a human Valentine to the art of cabaret.
The performer joked about being a lady of a certain age amid forgotten lyrics here and there in her 9:30 p.m. Trust Cabaret show, perhaps a result of her first two-show night in a very, very long time.
Akers hopefully practiced the self-love evident in some of her song choices and took in the love showered on her by the appreciative audience.
The noted contralto – that smoky voice of hers can go pretty darn low – is best known for her role as the original Luisa Contini in Broadway’s Nine. She shared two songs from that show, including Luisa’s dramatic “My Husband Makes Movies,” She asked the audience to think of ourselves as the media members Luisa has agreed to face in place of her unfaithful husband.
I could handle that – the media part, I mean.
Akers noted that she is most comfortable, I’d say joyful, singing in French, and it showed as she channeled her hero, Edith Piaf, for “La Vie En Rose” and a French-English version of “Somewhere” in her encore.
She concluded the night with her second and best-known Amanda McBroom song, “The Rose,” a hopeful illustration of rebirth.
That trio of tunes showed off Akers’ vocal and emotive range at full force, while other songs were part of her personal story and illustrative of her feelings about love.
She had already done humorous (“Ready to Begin Again” – visions of “teeth in a glass by my bed” and “hair in a drawer”), unabashed (“Unchained Melody” and “Our Love Affair“), and Sondheim (“Live Alone and Like It“).
When it comes to love, her friend Stephen Sondheim wrote songs that were never quite straightforward, either within or outside their musical context. So she chose one about self-love:
On your own with only you to concern yourself
Doesn’t mean you’re lonely, just that you’re free …
It wasn’t your typical Valentine’s Day playlist, but one reflective of Akers, who dubbed herself a “practical romantic.”
She had strong support, often noted by the singer, from her accompanist, songwriter-producer Alex Rybeck.
The lady in red did have her forearms uncovered, the better to reveal expressive hands that were often outstretched toward the audience at the Greer Cabaret on Valentine’s Day.
Those who braved the cold Pittsburgh night couldn’t help but head back out with a warm feeling inside.