by: Fern Siegel
Traveler’s USA Notebook
Photo by David Andrako
It’s fitting that the divine Ute Lemper’s latest cabaret show is Rendezvous With Marlene, as she shares several key traits with Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich. Both are captivating performers who harbored conflicted feelings about Germany, their birthplace.
And both are strong, sultry, alluring women with singular careers.
Thus, in the elegant Café Carlyle through March 3, Lemper, acclaimed internationally as an actress and singer, pays an emotional musical tribute to Dietrich, one of the stars of the Weimar. (Lemper made a name for herself singing the Weimar repertoire.)
What makes the show so touching is its poignant undertow. Dietrich was a savvy artist. She understood how to craft a glamorous, exotic public persona, noting that a carefully constructed illusion could sustain a lucrative private reality.
Rendezvous With Marlene is inspired by a phone call between the two in 1988. Dietrich was living as a recluse in Paris; Lemper had just received the Molière Award for Cabaret. Dietrich became a star in 1928, thanks to The Blue Angel. Six days before Lemper played the same role 64 years later in Berlin, Dietrich died.
Lemper treasured their time together and her respect for Dietrich is evident in Rendezvous. The journey is biographical. She neatly charts Dietrich’s rise from cabaret singer to Hollywood star to her successful stage shows with music director Burt Bacharach with customary Lemper flair.
Ever the anti-Nazi, Dietrich secured American citizenship and entertained American soldiers in WW II. The Germans never forgave her, still calling her a traitor at her Berlin burial in 1992. Lemper sadly relates her homeland’s cruelty, while relaying Dietrich’s joys and sorrows in song, including Hollaender’s “The Ruins of Berlin.” Mercer’s “When The World Was Young” or Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”
Capturing the essence of Dietrich’s voice, whether she’s discussing dinners with Billy Wilder, bisexuality or her movies, Lemper maintains her allure — and her mysterious aloofness. While there are moments that could be trimmed, overall, the experience is intimate and moving, the chance to watch a dazzling star channel another.