After a yearlong stay at "Grand Hotel" on Broadway, chanteuse Karen Akers was back at Blues Alley last weekend, performing a newly arranged collection of art, show and pop songs.
There were times when Akers's theatrical bearing and stylistic refinement seemed to be at odds with the emotional demands placed upon her by the material she chose, making for some unconvincing moments, but most of the songs were refreshingly unhackneyed and discreetly orchestrated by pianist Michael Abene, multi-instrumentalist Andy Drellis and bassist Chip Jackson. Indeed, Abene's gentle arrangements and Drellis's flattering contributions on flute, oboe, saxophone and sundry instruments made the show.
In addition to her breast-beating theme song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," the late set included references to Akers's stints in both "Grand Hotel" -- "I Waltz Alone" neatly segued into Brad Ross's companion piece, "How Sad No One Waltzes Anymore" -- and "Nine," though from the latter Akers drew the insinuating melody "Unusual Way," a song she didn't perform in the musical. Stephen Sondheim's "Sooner or Later," from the "Dick Tracy" soundtrack, was a welcome substitute for some of the lightweight pop tunes Akers has previously included in her act, and while her attempts to soften the angst-laden aura of the evening while perched on the piano weren't always successful, a warm and simple rendition of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" was certainly a nice touch.