Publication: Broadway World
By: Stephen Mosher
Date: December 4, 2020
My heart was racing while I watched the Ute Lemper film RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE. I was only five minutes into the two-hour program and already I knew that I was in for one of the great rides of entertainment. It was clear that Ms. Lemper had a vision when she devised this show, and that her vision was going to be carried out and carried through: this was going to be a story personal, engaging, and thrilling. Only five minutes in, I knew this.
I was not mistaken.
An iconic performer of great stature, Ute Lemper has proven time and again that she can do anything; there is a role that she has played for a long time, though – that of an actress constantly compared to a legend. From early on in her trajectory, Ms. Lemper has been compared to Marlene Dietrich – obviously, the fact that they are both strong German women with blonde hair, high cheekbones, and definitive performing styles plays into that, but it cannot be denied that there is a spiritual kinship between the two women. As it happens, those comparisons from early on in Lemper’s career led her to pen an embarrassed note to Dietrich, apologizing for the media attention on their similarities; that postcard led the legend to phone the up-and-comer and three hours later Ute Lemper had an amazing story to tell… thirty-five years later.
The number of biographies of Marlene Dietrich is overwhelming. With books, plays, nightclub acts, documentaries, and recordings, there is certainly plenty that has been said about the legend in the name of telling her story. What sets the magnificent Rendezvous With Marlene apart is that this is actually Ute Lemper‘s story. Certainly, Marlene’s history plays into the show significantly, with Lemper acting as Marlene in the storytelling, but what Lemper shows the audience is that which made Marlene Dietrich important to her. These aren’t just Marlene’s words and they aren’t just Ute’s words – these are the words of both women, the story of both artists, the life of both ground-breakers. Much of Lemper’s life as a woman and as an entertainer has been informed by the path lit by Dietrich before her, and seeing how those lives come together in one two-hour play caught on film is as glorious a part of the history of show business as either Dietrich or Lemper could have hoped for.
Singing the songs made famous by Dietrich (as Marlene and as Ute), telling classic tales as well as stories Marlene shared directly with her on that memorable day in 1988, Ms. Lemper brings the theatrical journey to the intersection where the lives of two extraordinary women met and became parallel lines. Providing a wealth of opportunities both musical and thespianic, this opera is one befitting both of the women to whom it pays homage. This is not just theater supreme by an artist well-versed in the act of performing – this is theatrical writing with incomparable structure and protracted vocabulary. Rendezvous With Marlene is a new piece of theater ready-made for any actor of substance and talent to take and make their own, though they would have to be prepared to take on the roles of not one but two great ladies of show business. Ute Lemper has given a gift to the actors of the world, a world where a one-person show can become an immediate source of income, any time that the actor would wish it. One can’t help but think that the fiercely independent Marlene Dietrich would have approved.
Rendezvous With Marlene is intensely epic theater that is contained in one woman and the nightclub she is playing, and audiences given a chance to see the show live should do just that. This, though, is a film of a theater piece, created to conform to the time in which we find ourselves, a time when live performance is not possible. If there is a happy byproduct to the show business shutdown, the film Rendezvous With Marlene is it – or at least it is one of them. No mere video capture of a club act is this, this is a breathtaking example of fine filmmaking for which Evan Quinn is given credit as director and editor (in collaboration with Ute Lemper). Had the show played Club Cumming, where the film was shot, one wonders where the audience would have sat. The club is intimate, at best, cozy, at least, and crowded, at worst; Lemper and her extraordinary band of musicians (hot bartenders, too!) make use of the entire space for the film, with the diva moving about the playing area freely, as any prudent actress would. Lemper leaves no amount of square footage unoccupied in her quest to bring to life her show, and director of photography Scott Mason is with her every step of the way, making sure that the documentation of this show so personal is precise and perfect. Lemper and co-producers Alan Cumming and Daniel Nardicio would do well to slap this film onto DVD discs and sell them or get it sold to a streaming platform like Broadway HD so that audiences around the world can luxuriate in repeated viewings of their scrupulous cinematic storytelling. Just as Rendezvous With Marlene brings together Misses Dietrich and Lemper into one story, the film that has been created in the time of coronavirus has brought together the art forms of cinema, theater, and Kabaret in a divinely decadent (yeah, I did it) film representing such fascinating and important parts of history, both show business and world, that it becomes one of the most exciting and important pieces of performing arts to come out of the year 2020.
Click here to read the review on Broadway World