Excuse Us, Ms. Lemper… Your Weimar Is Showing
Publication: Broadway World Cabaret
by: Bobby Patrick
Date: Mar. 29, 2023
Heigh-Ho, My Merry Rainbow Tribe! Bobby Patrick your RAINBOW Reviewer here. Grabbing that silent T in cabareT to bring you all the Tea!
Last Saturday’s 7 PM show at 54 Below finally had your favorite cabaret reviewer in the same room with the legendary Lemper… Ute Lemper brought her LILI MARLEEN – FROM WEIMAR TO THERESIENSTADT to where it truly belongs – Under the street. The culture of Weimar that grew in Germany between 1918 & 1933 was truly an underground revolution that was key to how and why the ’20s roared in that part of Europe. All good things must come to an end, especially when Nazis crash the party, and the all-too-short decade and a half that was the halcyon days of that era of freedom gave way to the ultimate oppressors. These days we have a few creative souls dedicated to keeping Weimar alive in small pockets of performing venues in NYC and a few other large cities. Young Kim David Smith and even younger Artemisia LeFay are shining examples of Gen Z’ers who embrace, rather than ignore or even repudiate, our creative pasts. The expressionism of Weimar also lives on in Ute Lemper, whose Kabarett performance Saturday night was painted in the stark shades of bright white, sharply punctuated with shafts of black throughout. Her Haunting opening mashup of Philip Glass’s STREETS OF BERLIN with Weill & Brecht’s ALABAMA SONG & BILBAO SONG perfectly evoked the Weimar dames like Marlene Dietrich and Lotte Lenya. Oh, those growled R’s and her eyes that see only what she needs to see, all the while mining diamonds and hot coals from her voice box, an instrument that yields a belting mezzo with a solid alto crossover. The audience is essential to her, as is the drama of a ’20s that really roared.
Recalling the dark times of then and now, Lemper’s voice is a wail for society, with A-tonal disturbances that cry out for free speech and expression, then, suddenly, some major chords and “pretty” intervals are dropped in, quite unexpectedly. Ute goes from pretty to thrilling and back again, as she tells stories that walk through the days before and during WWII. Telling the gut-wrenching story of Ilsa Weber, and then giving an equally moving rendition of the lady’s song about the concentration camp THERESIENSTADT (the camp for artists and musicians, before being sent to Auschwitz) left all open-mouthed with a mixture of loss and admiration for Weber and her words. With perfect support from Vana Gierig on piano, and Cyrus Beroukhim on violin, Ute was able to ride their waves of music, which were always filling but never overfilling the space, allowing their star to dominate. One comes to an understanding, at Lemper’s hands, that the realities of German society before… you know who… was that of a culture in flux from what it had been, under a harsh nobility, through a time of unprecedented freedom of expression and speech. It was a joyous time… until it wasn’t, and what the Lady Lemper creates with her show is THEATRE, my lambs.
Another highlight of Lemper’s show was her title song LILI MARLEEN, a tune Herman Göring called “Kitsch with the smell of corpses.” In her talkie bits around the number, Ute told of how the song became Marlene Detrich’s theme and that she went on to sing it in public and on several albums. In 1939, Marlene became a devoted American citizen with such a distaste for Adolf that she even entertained thoughts of getting close enough to him to kill him during an invited visit to Germany, a plan she later thought better of. Marlene’s patriotism for her adopted country meant she was barred from Germany’s shores for years. Brilliantly recreating the moment of Dietrich’s triumphant return for a UNICEF GALA in the ’60s La Lemper touched every heart in the house with Pete Seger’s WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE as her finale for the night and, despite the rousing standing ovation and calls for MORE, there was no encore, leaving us all wanting that more.
Embracing, as she does, the stark expressionism of Weimar and the darker stories of Jewish oppression, Lemper’s show is one of the most uplifting pieces of theatre we have seen in a while. Her performance of each song and of her spontaneously spoken script took the room back, gave us a modern perspective on songs that were never silenced, no matter the highs and lows of life, and rang out with the catchphrase of the Kabarett In Exile formed briefly by Brecht and Eisler, “We’re Not afraid to be queer and different.”
In the end, through her sense of drama and the music of Holleander, Spoliansky, Brecht, and, yes, even Seger, Ute Lember built a smokey, dimly lit, and incredibly exciting Kabarett room under 54th Street. She let light shine in controlled measures and painted in the shadows as she sang, and, for all of that, we give LILI MARLEEN – FROM WEIMAR TO THERESIENSTADT At 54 Below a resounding…5 Out Of 5 Rainbows
We Could Only Wish That The Lady Had More NYC Performances Scheduled This Month, But Do Keep Up With Her Calendar: HERE
Read, My Boss, Stephen Mosher’s Review Of The Lady’s RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE: HERE
All Photos By Yours Truly, Bobby Patrick
Click HERE to read see review along with more fabulous photos from the performance by Bobby, on the Broadway World site.