Karen Oberlin: Confound Me – Songs in Search of Something

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Karen Oberlin

Confound Me – Songs in Search of Something

The Triad, NYC, July 11, 2018

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Karen Oberlin
Photo: Bill Westmoreland

The word “journey” was forbidden as clichéd, but nonetheless, Confound Me was Karen Oberlin’s very personal journey through the rigors of adulthood, told through a diverse range of story songs. Each was a fitting choice for this philosophical theme—especially as setup in the opener, “Night Song” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams). The moods were many. Irony was represented in a blues-based version of “Napoleon” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg), while Oberlin’s very moving delivery of “America” (Paul Simon) evoked a longing for something past, particularly in this current fractious political climate. 

Oberlin’s theatrical training served her well. She’s animated and, through body language, supplements her ability to put across lyrics successfully. This skill was especially notable on “No More” (Stephen Sondheim) and a torchy “Detour Ahead” (John Frigo/Herb Ellis/Lou Carter). Of special note were Oberlin’s delivery of two classics, “Nature Boy” (eden ahbez) and “Something to Live For” (Billy Strayhorn), which seemed squarely in the singer’s comfort zone.

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The two numbers were made more special by solos within each by music director and pianist Tedd Firth and bassist, Sean Smith. Both these musicians are overflowing with creative musical ideas, which they each applied lavishly on their turns. 

Two other sweet spots were in lovely new compositions by Renee Rosnes and David Hajdu, Oberlin’s husband. “All But You” and the titular song, “Confound Me,” are romantic ballads that the singer handled with loving care.

The one minus in a beautifully executed show was its length, especially since the set didn’t vary much in tempo. Despite the economy of Oberlin’s narrative, 10 or 15 minutes could easily have been shaved off with no loss of quality or intent.

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Ending on a high note, the vocalist exited on a beautiful “Skylark” (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer) with the first half sung in an exquisite a cappella.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.