Publication: Financial Times US
By: Arwa Haider
DAte: 9 Apr 2024

Ute Lemper is touring with a show that reflects on her stellar career as a singer, performer and cabaret icon. She talks to Arwa Haider

In the twilight haze of New York’s 54 Below club, it’s hard to tell what time it is. Onstage, the German singer, performer and cabaret icon Ute Lemper is sound-checking Rendezvous With Marlene, a show based on her late-1980s encounter with an octogenarian Marlene Dietrich. The story is unusual; the scene feels especially surreal, because I’m watching via a transatlantic video call to Lemper’s mobile — but it’s enchanting to witness her channel the elegant yet embittered Dietrich, singing classics including “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”. At the same time, she sounds unmistakably Lemper: wry, alluring, icy yet incandescent.“

“I always wanted to use singing, performing and telling a story as a profound identification with my feeling of life, my own outrage, hurt, hope, happiness,” says Lemper, now offstage. “I never wanted to imitate anyone; I was way too full of my own passions.”

Lemper, 60, grew up in Münster, Germany, in what she describes as a conservative home (her parents were musical but prioritised their “normal jobs”). By her teens, Lemper was singing in a jazz-rock group before studying dance in Cologne, then drama at Vienna’s Max Reinhardt Seminary. In Paris in 1987, her lead performance in Cabaret won major accolades, with many reviewers likening Lemper to Dietrich. The rising star wrote to the reclusive grande dame, apologising for these bold comparisons; unexpectedly, Dietrich phoned Lemper and they spoke at length.

“It inspired this work about human contact: between the inexperienced youth and the old experienced woman who was jaded yet had so much to say,” explains Lemper.

In the decades since Dietrich’s call, Lemper’s career has encompassed Weimar-era cabaret as the eminent modern interpreter of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s songbook, musical theatre, including her award-winning role in the London and Broadway productions of Chicago, movies (she was a heavily pregnant fashionista in Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter), and more. She has been both maverick and muse; her 2000 album Punishing Kiss featured songs written for her by the likes of Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Scott Walker. Her delivery remains deliciously sharp, but her approach has become more reflective, and her upcoming Time Traveller tour highlights her creative range.

Time Traveller shares its name with Lemper’s latest album, as well as her autobiography (an English translation is planned). Both the record and the book draw from her archives; she found herself updating early compositions and revisiting a memoir she’d been commissioned to write in her twenties.
“The first 10 years of my career were overwhelmingly intense,” she says. “I was still a nomad, running from city to city, under the pressure of this enormous career. And there was the backdrop of extreme metamorphosis in Germany, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new Europe breaking open…”

While Lemper has been settled in New York for some years, Berlin has never left her: “There was a rebel in me that could very much be inspired by this place that was torn into two halves in the middle of East Germany — the Berlin of this anarchic, rebellious spirit, where I really had a wake-up call as a young German, an artist and a woman.”

It sounds as if Lemper has always been punk at heart. She smiles: “I didn’t need the piercings and tattoos… but I felt like kind of an outcast. I had my music to escape — and the families I found in the theatres: exotic people, paradise birds who made the night the realm of fulfilment. This piece of Berlin stayed with me, always this realism and expressionism, when I was Sally Bowles [in Cabaret] in Paris, when I was Velma Kelly [in Chicago] in London or on Broadway.”

Berlin also endures in Lemper’s fantastically vivid interpretations of the Weimar-era collaborations of Brecht and Weill, including cabaret songs from The Threepenny Opera and Happy End. Her versions have been celebrated since her debut solo album, Ute Lemper Singt Kurt Weill (apparently Dietrich was quite proprietorial about this during their call), and she has proved a modern champion for this material.

Still, she says, “In the beginning, the Weill Foundation was a bit of a bummer because they put so many limitations on things. We called them the Weill Police. In 1987 in Berlin, I was recording in the studio, and there was a member of the Kurt Weill Foundation in the singing booth with me, their finger on the score saying: ‘Do not speak this. This has to be sung.’ I’d still put intention into the singing. But obviously, I didn’t like the authoritarian control.”

Why does Lemper think contemporary artists and audiences are still attracted to cabaret? “This original material from Weimar was so important: these repertoires about homosexuality, freedom of [female] emancipation, freedom of choice, political corruption… Cabaret is light entertainment, but it taps into all the social taboos. People love to go out for dinner and drinks, and to watch this form that pushes boundaries. Cabaret can go much further than musical theatre can.”

Musical theatre blockbusters hold little appeal for Lemper nowadays. “Sometimes I had issues working with directors, when I had to obey something that I didn’t feel,” she says. “I even struggled with Chicago, because I found the part of Velma like a slapstick caricature of what I was supposed to be. Although I loved the really strong athletic dancing of the Bob Fosse theatre.”

It has always been extraordinary to watch Lemper’s powerfully slinky take on classic Fosse moves. “I don’t know; right now, I need a new hip,” she laughs ruefully. “It demanded such physical strength to do these eight shows a week.”

Lemper’s tour and album allow her to revisit all these parts of her career, taking inspiration from decades of experience and unexpected connections, creating work that she describes as “a labour of love”. “I was not ever planning my future,” she says. “I was not even expecting a future. It took me a while to find my world.”

Ute Lemper’s UK tour begins on April 24 at Bristol St George’s. ‘Time Traveller’ is out now, utelemper.com

Publication: Broadway World
By: Sharon Ellman
Date: February 11, 2024

As if a troubadour of old, Ute Lemper takes us on a historical journey through song

Stepping into Carnegie Hall’s presentation of Ute Lemper, WEIMAR BERLIN AND AFTER THE EXODUS on February 9, 2024 was as if leaping into the distant past. The show, part of a festival of Fall of The Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice, delves into the arts and culture of this short yet important period in the world of innovative art and culture. As if a troubadour of old, the star of the show, Ute Lemper took the filled audience on a journey through song.  Theatergoers voyaged through the story of German post World War I economic hardship, coming into the sunshine of freedom, democracy, capitalistic decadence and finally devoured by the darkness of Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Lemper narrates as she moves musically from the economic poverty of the uncontrolled inflation of the German economy in post World War I. Along with her band, Vana Gierig (piano), Matthew Parrish (Bass), Todd Turkisher (Drums) and Cyrus Beroukhim (violin) she enters the stage, immersed within the center of the audience, dressed as impoverished street musicians to begin the story of the poverty and out of control hyperinflation which overwhelmed German lives in 1923.

The audience is then joyfully carried into 1924 when the creation of the Reichsmark stabilizes the inflation and Germans begin a life of fun.  “Divine decadence”, as Sally Bowles declared in Cabaret, was merely the icing on the Weimar cake.  Fun, frolic and morality all vied for the spotlight now. Lemper’s intense and emotionally powerful vocals brought us from the self indulgence of the decade onward with her renditions of “The Ballad of Mack The Knife” and “Life’s a Swindle” to “Pirate Jenny.” Channeling Marlene Dietrich, the songstress oozed the famed seductive screen siren’s androgynous sex appeal that marked a revolution during the Weimar period.  Lemper’s low and sultry English as well German language performances of “Just a Gigolo”, “Sex Appeal” and “Ich bin die fesche Lola” displayed the overtly sexual culture that had evolved in the freedom of society that was the late 20’s and early 30’s in Germany.  She aptly referred to this time as “dancing on the edge of the volcano.”

But by 1933 onward, all civilian rights and the independence of individuals to live their lives as they wished was slowly but surely curtailed by Hitler and the Nazi Party.  Ute Lemper  portrayed the music of those that ran into exile, like composer Hanns Eisler as well as the other composers, artists, singers, poets and writers who despite remaining hopeful were doomed to the ghettos and concentration camps that foretold death.

Throughout the performance, the fair-haired chanteuse changed costume from drab street musician attire, to black gown, jumpsuit, sexy red evening attire and ending with a long black somber covering jacket all while remaining on the stage – unbelievably peeling off one outfit after another.   Her physical transformation was like that of a chameleon adapting to its environment – each time clad in clothing that represented the ensuing change of political and hence cultural attitude.   From her appearance, we saw the Weimar Republic begin its rise from the ashes of the horrors of World War I, peak in cultural and societal openness and then just as swiftly crumbled due to the destruction of the country’s democratic government.

This reviewer was overwhelmed by the emotionally intense performance that was Ute Lemper, WEIMAR BERLIN AND AFTER THE EXODUS.  Using the music of the time as the conduit, Ute Lemperweaved a tale that began in darkness, became a  pinnacle of creative light and then succumbed to the murky depths of destruction nearly a century ago.  This very unusual cabaret production was much an homage to what could have been and what should have been if it had not been destroyed by the Nazis. Ute Lemper, WEIMAR BERLIN AND AFTER THE EXODUS featured the renowned singer Ute Lemper, with her band consisting of Vana Gierig (piano), Matthew Parrish (Bass), Todd Turkisher (Drums) and Cyrus Beroukhim (violin).

Find great shows to see on the Carnegie Hall website HERE.

Publication: Stage and Screen
By: PAULANNE SIMMONS
Date: OCTOBER 18, 2023

Ute Lemper’s Time Traveler, which plays Joe’s Pub one more time on October 22, highlights pivotal events in the German-born chanteuse’s life. These events include her move to Berlin forty years ago when she became part of a Kurt Weill show; her 1987 move to Paris to play Sally Bowles in Cabaretand her first performance at Joe’s Pub twenty-eight years ago, not long after Joseph Papp had inaugurated The Public Theater.

But the time Lemper seems to recall most lovingly was when, after being dubbed in France “La  Nouvelle Marlene,” she wrote Dietrich a letter and was rewarded by a phone call from the iconic star herself. Lemper’s rendering of Deitrich, her heroic stand against the Nazis and the subsequent anger of her fellow-Germans, is both moving and funny. It gave birth to her album, Rendezvous with Marlene.

Lemper seems most comfortable with songs written and performed by the great artists in Berlin cabaret during the days of the Weimar Republic, or songs written in a similar style. Her repertoire included Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny”; Kurt Schwabach and Mischa Spoliansky’s “The Lavender Song,” with its militant lyrics, “We’re not afraid to be queer and different”; and a medley of songs by Schiffer, Spoliansky and Hollander, all about sexual freedom and social decadence.

As Lemper put it, “We would have had the sixties in the forties if the Nazis had not destroyed it.”

Lemper likes songs with poetic lyrics written by people like Charles Bukowsky (“The Crunch”) and Jacques Prévert. With her deep, smoky voice she can deliver these songs with great feeling. She also knows how to bend a note, imitate musical instruments, and scat, all in the time-honored tradition of jazz.

Lemper performs a heartbreaking version of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” It doesn’t hurt that she can sing in English, French and German. And there are also a few original songs from her newest album Time Traveler.

Ute Lemper travels through time with compassion, a world-weary nod and a wink.

photos by Guido Harari

Time Travelers
Ute Lemper
Joes Pub at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
last show Sunday October 22, 2023, at 8:30pm
for tickets, visit Public/Joe’s Pub
for tour dates and cities, visit Ute Lemper

Publication: Indie Band Guru
By: Matthew Rowe
Date: August 6, 2023

An exotic tone that is reminiscent of the sounds of a land far away ushers us into a chic bassline that seems intent on infecting us with its unhesitant march. The drums enter the fold, and while they’re not abrasive nor full of reckless abandon, they’re kept from running too close to the straight and narrow by the boisterous low-end in the ensuing melody.

Ute Lemper starts to sing in her honey sweet voice, and suddenly an air of unrestricted sexuality washes over every inch of sonic intensity penetrating our speakers. In her new single “Time Traveler,” the rising jazz star pulls out all of the big guns and riddles a simple harmony with vivacious textures that are as moving and evocative as anything that you would find in a museum of fine art, but don’t be fooled by this song’s multidimensional sonic profile. It’s a far cry from the trite, inaccessibly surreal nattering that has overwhelmed contemporary jazz with pointless experimentation, and yet it ferociously breaks away from the conventional with an urbane stylization that is bound to keep Ute Lemper’s name in the headlines as we head into summer.

“Time Traveler” is slickly produced, but none of the natural tonality in our lead singer’s voice is sacrificed in the construction of this unbelievably catchy hook. There’s a layer of pulsating percussion that separates Lemper’s vocal from the brazen bassline, and to some extent, it helps to define the tension in the lyrics in a way that doesn’t interrupt the fluidity of the verses in the least.

On the one hand, the harmonies that are shadowing every lyrical emission from Lemper are volatile, uncompromising, and seemingly ready to pounce on us around every twist and turn that the song has in store for us.

However, on the other hand, nothing is going on behind the soundboard to prevent the words from capturing the lion’s share of our affections from the very second that they subtly start ripping through the intimidating structure of the intro. There’s nothing to get between the artist and audience in this single, and that’s something that just can’t be said of the bulk of output that we’ve seen from her peers in 2023.

Ute Lemper has been on quite a whirlwind trajectory toward superstardom since the release of her debut not long ago, and from where I sit, “Time Traveler” is only adding fuel to an already incinerating wildfire. There’s too much passion, too much heart, and too much attention to detail for anyone to dismiss what this vibrant songwriter is doing in and out of the studio at the moment, and while we’re gearing up to see some ambitious releases this year, I have a feeling that this is going to stand out as one of the more solid singles cut in the jazz genre. It’s mobile enough to keep us quite stimulated, but its surreal, multifaceted approach to its stately harmonies appeals to a much more discriminating group of music fans who have been waiting for a singer of this caliber to come around for a long time now.

Read the review on Indie Band Guru’s site

Publication: The JW Vibe
By: Jonathan Widran
Date: July 15, 2023

On “Time Traveler,” the dreamy and deeply soulful, downtempo yet vocally dramatic title track from Ute Lemper’s eclectic new album, the veteran German born, NYC based singer/songwriter shares some whimsical, hopeful news – that in these dark times, even through the rain, she’s here to save us, returning from the future, offering us a bridge to someplace better. Considering her vast history as a musical theatre performer and recording artist of classic international repertoire, it’s exciting to see her not only showcasing her vast chops as a multi-genre vocalist and songwriter, but so determined to look ahead rather than rest on her laurels. (See below for the visually stunning cutting-edge video that uses AI to explore time travel and evolution).

Though listeners unfamiliar with that background could surely enjoy the rich emotional intimacy of her voice as she fashions a unique stylistic journey that finds her exploring pop, neo-soul, jazz and alternative R&B vibes, her legendary history worth recounting, if only to showcase how her remarkable artistry interpreting the genius of others has perhaps inspired her own evolution as a self-contained singer/songwriter working amidst the dynamic sonic landscapes of her creative partner Todd Turkisher.

After joining the jazz rock group Panama Drive Band at 16, she graduated from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna. Starting in the Viennese cast of Cats, her theatre credits in Europe and on Broadway include title or key roles in Peter Pan, The Blue Angel, Cabaret and Chicago, in addition to dubbing voices for Disney projects like The Little Mermaid for German recordings. Later named Billboard’s Crossover Artist of the Year for 1993-94, Lemper’s discography includes acclaimed interpretations of Kurt Weill compositions, German cabaret songs, a tribute to Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf, pop albums in English, French and German, contribution to a Sondheim tribute project and an album (Punishing Kiss) featuring songs written for her by Scott Walker, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and others.

Almost as if the world needed it now rather than at the turn of the century, the aptly titled Time Traveler emerged from a chance discovery in 2021 of tapes featuring tracks she had written and recorded two decades ago in her partner’s studio. Finding these recordings again inspired Lemper to reflect on her history, embrace the younger self she heard and, most importantly, compose new songs from the perspective of a human being and artist who had experienced two decades more of life. Most cleverly, to keep us wondering and invite us to immerse deeper into the grand material in these ten exquisitely produced tracks, the promo materials don’t tell us which songs are from which era – only that “she shares her feelings about her path, reflecting on joys, regrets, wisdom, longings and their fulfillment.”

No matter, as the alternating purring sensuality and chaotic vocal intensity on the jazzy, atmospheric “In My Flame” is as timeless and passionately rendered as the funky/jazzy pop-R&B torchiness of the defiant “Moving On,” the seductive mystery of “Magical Stone” and the graceful, spacious, soprano sax sweetened whimsy of “At The Reservoir,” a tribute to her favorite refreshing spot in Central Park. Because it seems crafted as a thematic follow up to “Little Face,” a track on her 2002 album But One Day…, there’s a possible early 2000s time stamp on the lushly arranged, classical-tinged “Little Face – the Sequel.” But even with that, it’s deliciously unknowable speculation.

The listener gets a generous glimpse of Lemper’s sophisticated international coolness on the hypnotic and sweeping French language ballad “Envie D’Amour” before she wraps the wondrous time traveling with the vocally urgent, richly harmonic, old-school soul-jazz flavored “Cry in the Dark” and the gorgeous reflective closing ballad “The Gift,” which features some of Lemper’s most dynamic vocal runs balanced by hushed intimacy. Hopefully, the time traveling she does in the future will grace us with more vibrant originals like these.

Click here to read the review on JW Vibe