Karen Akers: Water Under the Bridge

Karen Akers returns to New York performance like a blazing torch. In a show she declares to be her most personal to date, the artist takes us through two marriages, the birth of her children, and growing older with pissed off grace.

A pairing of “Among My Souvenirs” (Horatio Nicholls/Edgar Leslie) and “Walking Among My Yesterdays” (John Kander/Fred Ebb): Was it really all that sweet/In that house along that street/Mem’ry clouds a thousand ways… reintroduce us to the actress who sings as if thoughts emerge in real time. Wistful melancholy can’t repress a weary smile. Akers follows this with determination to move on in the form of the droll, western “I’m Checkin’ Out” (Shel Silverstein) through which, at the piano, Alex Rybeck grins and bounces.

Alex Rybeck, Karen Akers, Tom Hubbard

After two decades of marriage, Akers first husband came out as gay. This candid detail prefaces “Sometimes When We Touch” (Dan Hill) : I’m only just beginning to see the real you… Arms at her sides rise from the elbow, then fall as if deflated. At times I’d like to break you/ (this she almost shouts in frustration) And drive you to your knees…Wrapped in memory, the vocalist doesn’t look into audience eyes, an anomaly for Akers and one that, alas, continues. Deft musical arrangement supports as if in common breath.

Jim Akers wanted to be a father and turned out to be a fine one. Rarely performed, “The Greatest Discovery” (Elton John/Bernie Taupin) goes out to her sons. Elongated lyrics are ripe with nuance. Three songs by Craig Carnelia follow her trajectory: the first observes a young housewife; in the second, unwitting and torn, she responds to a man not her husband- It didn’t mean a thing/I didn’t wear my ring…; the third describes dividing a household. Of these, we’re with her through two, but the third finds pain replaced by annoyance-something hard to buy.

Facing the situation – dating? with humor, we’re offered “The Shelf Life of Love” (Mark Salzman/ Stephen Lawrence) which Akers mines with acerbic wit and pristine timing. At this point she meets “a very tall, suspiciously handsome Irishman” destined to be her second husband.

Two highlights are the tandem John Kander/Fred Ebb “Love and Love Alone” and “Life Is” during which we see a proud, grave, passionate survivor and “Water Under the Bridge” (Stephen Sondheim), a song as musically difficult to sing as it is to communicate wind shifts of emotion. The latter arrives more rankled on this occasion than its last outing. Akers carries both off with brio.

“Ready to Begin Again” (Jerry Leiber/Mark Stoller), opens When my teeth are rinsed in a glass by my bed,/and my hair lies somewhere in a drawer…It’s not the first time we hear her rueful and resigned, albeit with tongue in cheek. The excellent song “Take Me As I Am” (Barbara Fried/Alex Rybeck) follows countering with melodic dignity. “This is where I find myself now,” the artist declares.

The show ends with her signature, French language “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (Charles Dumont/ Michel Vaucaire), a bravura battle cry.

Akers’ fine voice has expanded with more open-throated delivery. She is, as always, regal on stage, able with both innuendo and comic truth. Feeling is somewhat of an exorcism tonight. The actress has a lot to say.

Photos by Jeff Harnar

Karen Akers: Water Under the Bridge
Directed by Sara Lazarus
MD/Arrangements/Piano- Alex Rybeck
Bass- Tom Hubbard

Birdland  
315 West 44th Street  

About Alix Cohen (1312 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.