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Karen Oberlin - Heart & Soul: The Songs of Frank Loesser

Karen Oberlin

Director: Eric Michael Gillett
Musical Director/Piano: Jon Weber
Bass: Sean Smith
January 13, 2016
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Some performers choose a theme for their shows and the most successful forge a creative path, capturing the theme with enthusiasm, intelligence, the songs they choose to deliver and how they deliver them. Think of Andrea Marcovicci and the late Mary Cleere Haran and add to them, Karen Oberlin. She has studied the music of Doris Day, Elvis Costello, Duke Ellington and through their music, she views the soundtrack of our lives and presents it with songs of beguiling depth, sentiment, and delight.

In 2010, Karen Oberlin joined the parade of tributes celebrating Frank Loesser’s centenary at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel with "Heart & Soul: The Songs of Frank Loesser." This year, she joins Stephen Hanks and Cabaret Life Productions' presentation of New York Cabaret Greatest Hits monthly shows at the Metropolitan Room, reprising "Heart and Soul," with even more heart and more soul. Hearing the music of Loesser through the velvety vocals and charm of Oberlin epitomizes again why some songs become standards.

Oberlin brings a sunny optimism with a snap of sass to "If I Were a Bell" and then turns on a dime to recall the wartime yearning of "I Don't Want to Walk Without You." Oberlin's stage ease is easy and she has developed a capable acting and vocal skill that often reveals the whispery warmth reminiscent of Doris Day and the jazz sensitivity of Helen Merrill.

With natural ease and stage presence, Oberlin phrases with dexterity and subtle stresses, bringing out the essence of the song. She has developed the acting and interpretive skill to draw a picture about a song simply called, "Bleep, Bleep" and has fun with the outsized hilarity of "Hamlet," a specialty song written for the incendiary Betty Hutton. In a different vein, Loesser also wrote a ballad for Hutton, "I Wish I didn't Love You So," which Oberlin tinged with a feeling of acceptance devoid of bitterness.

With Jon Weber at piano and bassist Sean Smith, the music was fresh and slashed with jazz. Oberlin joined Smith's bass for a two-man cuddle with "Snug As a Bug In a Rug." With a nod toward the frigid night, Weber and Oberlin had the perfect duet with the demure flirtatiousness of, "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The canon of Frank Loesser is vast and crammed with bright, romantic, thoughtful, restive and elegant songs. This generous show displayed the parade of moods, as witty as "Then I Wrote the Minuet in G" and as tender as the melancholy delicacy of "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year." Her encore was a cappella, a song from "Guys and Dolls," sung to Sarah by her grandfather who urged her to follow her heart, "More I Cannot Wish You."

Talent, yes, but Karen Oberlin also did the work of researching Frank Loesser, finding the right music and delivering it her way to create an understated yet captivating look at some eternal songs.