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,

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.

On Friday, February 9, Ute performed “Weimar Berlin and After the Exodus” for the Weimar Underground series at Zankel Hall (part of Carnegie Hall) in New York City.

The performance explored the music of Weimar Berlin and the many artists exiled from it, with Ute’s interpretation of music by Hollander, Weill, Brecht, Schiffer, Spoliansky, and more.

In the picture: Barbara Stöckl and Ute Lemper. photo: © ORF/Günther Pichlkostner.
In the picture: Gerhard Jelinek, Ute Lemper, Barbara Stöckl, Philipp Jelinek, Lilian Klebow. photo: © ORF/Günther Pichlkostner.

Be sure to catch Ute Lemper’s visit to the “STÖCKL” program. The program will be broadcast on ORF 2 on December 7th, 2023 at 11:00 p.m., and will then be available for one week on the ORF TVThek and will also be available on 3sat for a month from the broadcast date.

Check the local listings for those TV stations for details on how to watch.

Be sure to tune in to this radio show, in which Ute describes and plays her favorite and groundbreaking pieces of music and episodes from her life. She takes the audience on a journey through time through her musical memories. She also wishes us a musical Merry Christmas.

It will be broadcast at the following dates and times:

Sunday, 26 November: 1pm – 2pm
Saturday, 2 December: 10am – 11am

More info on how to listen can be found here.

Below is the original German background article to the upcoming shows:

Ute Lempers Karriere ist umfangreich und abwechslungsreich. Sie hat sich auf der Bühne, in Filmen, im Konzert und als einzigartige Aufnahmekünstlerin auf mehr als 30 CDs in ihrer 40-jährigen Karriere einen Namen gemacht. Zu ihrem 60. Geburtstag gibt es ein neues Album und die Autobiografie “Die Zeitreisende”.

Sie wurde allgemein für ihre Interpretationen Berliner Kabarettlieder, der Werke von Kurt Weill und Bertold Brecht und der Chansons von Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Jacques Prevert, Nino Rota, Astor Piazzolla und vielen anderen gelobt. Seit vierzig Jahren steht sie jetzt schon auf den Bühnen der Welt. Ihre Show “Rendezvous mit Marlene” basiert auf einem dreistündigen Telefonat und Austausch zwischen Marlene Dietrich und Ute Lemper im Jahr 1988 in Paris, also vor 35 Jahren. Nachdem sie den französischen Molière-Preis für ihren Auftritt im Cabaret in Paris erhalten hatte, hatte Ute eine Postkarte an Marlene geschickt, die seit 1979 in der Avenue de Montaigne 12 lebte, und sich im Grunde für die Medienaufmerksamkeit entschuldigt, die sie mit Marlene Dietrich verglichen hatte. Ute stand gerade am Anfang ihrer Theater- und Musikkarriere, während Marlene auf ein langes, erfülltes Leben voller Filme, Musik, unglaublicher Kollaborationen, Liebesgeschichten und Starruhm zurückblickte.

Im Jahr 2021 und im Jahr 2022 feiert Ute mit ihrer fantastischen Tangoband den 100. Geburtstag von Astor Piazzolla und spielt seine Musik sowie von seinen Kompositionen inspirierte Lieder. Ute spielte vor ausverkauftem Haus bei der Konzertreihe mit dem Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra und Wynton Marsalis in der Rose Hall in New York City, die der Musik von Kurt Weill gewidmet war. Außerdem präsentiert sie mit Vince Mendoza als Dirigent und teilweise als Arrangeur ein neues französisches Programm namens “Paris Paris”.

Ganz anders ist Utes andere Kreation, “The Bukowski Project”, eine eher avantgardistische, abenteuerliche Collage aus Musik und Liedern der Poesie von Charles Bukowski. Bei dieser Hommage an den Dichter handelt es sich um eine wunderschöne halbklassische Aufnahme mit Liedern zwischen Liebe und Krieg von Hans Eisler, Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf und Astor Piazzolla sowie Volksliedern auf Jiddisch und Russisch.

Ute Lemper wurde in Münster geboren und absolvierte ihr Studium an der Tanzakademie in Köln und der Schauspielschule des Max-Reinhardt-Seminars in Wien. Sie ist Sängerin, Schauspielerin, Tänzerin, Künstlerin. Zu ihrem 60. Geburtstag erlaubt die Grande Dame des Chansons einen überraschenden persönlichen Einblick in ihr Leben vor und hinter dem Vorhang. Mit ihrer Autobiografie (erschienen im GU Verlag zum Preis von 26 Euro) erzählt sie von den Anfängen ihres Berufes, ihren großen und kleinen Erfolgen, ihren vielen aufregenden Projekten ihrer langen Karriere im ständigen Konflikt mit ihrer wichtigsten Rolle als Mutter von vier Kindern.

Ute Lemper – Homepage (englisch)

“Time Traveller” aus dem gleichnamigen Album bei YouTube


Sonntag, 26. November: 13:00 – 14:00 Uhr
Samstag, 2. Dezember: 10:00 – 11:00 Uhr

Alle Infos rund um Sendetermine, Stargäste und Interviews findet Ihr auch auf BRF2-Facebook.

The original post can be found here.