Why should you go to a basement venue condemned for redevelopment to hear a tall slender American woman you probably haven’t heard of sing the works of a long-dead composer and lyricist? Because, trust us, you should. For three good reasons.

One : Karen Akers has a ten-album back-catalogue (much of it available on Amazon, some of it actually on cassette) and a Tony-nominated Broadway pedigree but most of her celebrity didn’t cross the pond and she’s a vibrant and elegant delight still to be ‘discovered’ in London. At 64.

Two : closing in a couple of months Pizza on the Park is the nearest thing we have to New York’s Oak Room at the Algonquin, or Cafe Carlyle, where experienced singers appear in a truly intimate cabaret setting. Since Akers has a beguiling way of catching your eye – when she sings directly at you, it’s almost alarming – this is a connection we simply can’t experience in today’s ever-expanding music venues.

Three : The songs are by Cole Porter, arguably the finest 20th century American composer and lyricist – and one of the few to pen all the words and all the music to almost all his works.

Akers works the lyrics in a clear, strong, just-above-baritone conversational voice (her speaking and singing voices are close in timbre) only occasionally pressing the point too firmly as though lecturing deaf foreigners. She sings eighteen numbers, and you’ll know at least a dozen from classic interpretations by Ella Fitzgerald or Merman or Sinatra.

Porter’s verse introductions are so ingeniously wordy, and Akers milks them so generously that it’s a bit like a game of ‘Name That Tune’ but those you’ll nail easily include ‘Anything Goes’, ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ and ‘Always True To You Darling In My Fashion’. She spins them too, taking the usually-belted cowboy anthem ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ at a sultry pace and finding new meaning by delivering it softly as a torch song till you wonder why they never chose her version as the theme to ‘Brokeback Mountain’.

It’s good too to hear the chattery pattery songs like ‘Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby’ or the rarely-performed ‘Tale of the Oyster’ from Porter’s musical ‘Fifty Million Frenchmen’, and Akers obviously relished sharing these with her audience.

Consummate. It’s a good word. Go and experience it, before it’s gone.

Karen Akers continues at Pizza on the Park tonight and tomorrow at 8.30pm and 8pm on Sunday 13 June. Tickets are only £15 or 20 by phoning 0845 6027017 or from the website.

Seating is at cabaret/dining tables and doors open at 7, the menu is Pizza Express standards at slightly enhanced prices but there’s no obligation to eat. Tube to Hyde Park Corner, exit 4 and it’s 50 metres on the left.

Londonist Originally published on Londonist