Singer Karen Akers bears about as much resemblance to French chanteuse Edith Piaf as the Statue of Liberty does to the Venus de Milo. Tall and elegant, with the stark cheekbones and slender carriage of a high-fashion model, Akers' stage presence hovers a good 10 or 12 inches above the image of the legendary little sparrow of French song.
But Akers' opening night performance at the Cinegrill on Tuesday was a case study in just how deceptive appearances can be. Working her way through an eclectic array of songs that ranged from Fred Astaire to Peter Allen, Akers sounded just fine--an impressive new voice in the cabaret world. The true breadth of her abilities didn't become apparent until she dug into material from Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and--especially--Piaf.
Singing in impeccably unaccented French, Akers found a way to shape and extend the classic line of French song. She is neither as small physically, nor as emotionally self-focused as Piaf, but she is, in her own cool way, equally intense, and equally hypnotic to watch.
Obviously concerned about the hazards of presenting too intense an image, Akers paced her program with such humorous songs as "What Is the Shelf Life of Love" and (appropriately, given her height) "Torch Song"--a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Miss Liberty.
Despite her reservations, however, Akers was at her best in the more passionate songs of the chanteuse, and she should not hesitate to do more of them. Time may teach her, if less quickly than it did Piaf, how difficult it is for a singer to be convincing with both laughter and tears.