Press : “intimate and mesmerising show celebrates an inimitable performer”

Publication: The Guardian
By: Rian Evans
Date: 25 April, 2024

Theatricality and chemistry … Ute Lemper. Photograph: Sonja Horsman
Theatricality and chemistry … Ute Lemper. Photograph: Sonja Horsman

St George’s Bristol
The German chanteuse enters her seventh decade with her velvet voice and characteristic wit intact

Time Traveler is the title of the indefatigable Ute Lemper’s current short UK tour and also that of the new album of songs she herself has written. Lemper is mostly labelled a chanteuse, but she has always been multifaceted: singer, actor, dancer – for whom Maurice Béjart choreographed a ballet – an exhibited painter in her native Germany, cabaret artist, and now composer, too.

Seemingly prompted by a “big birthday” – her 60th – last year, a period of musing on life, loves, hopes and glories, was set in train. Songs emerged naturally, reflected particularly in the title song Time Traveler and also At the Reservoir, a favourite place in New York, long since her home. Yet Lemper also pointedly invoked Germany’s history; a potent moment came when listing the iniquities of 1924 Weimar – with whose music Lemper is particularly associated – and the suggestion that, a century on, things are actually still the same. Reaching the final line of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone? there was real anguish: When will they ever learn? Lemper whispers: “Never!”

Implicit theatricality: Ute Lemper in her dressing room at St George's in Bristol. Photograph: Sonja Horsman
Implicit theatricality: Ute Lemper in her dressing room at St George’s in Bristol. Photograph: Sonja Horsman

Singing in different languages – English words sometimes an indecipherable drawl, the German carrying the frisson of authenticity – Lemper delivered her best-known numbers – the Weill/Brecht Surabaya-Johnny and Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose – with her characteristic mix of sleek slinkiness of voice, velvety in the lower range. With self-deprecation rather than self pity, she wittily made All That Jazz and the whiplash factor of Velma Kelly’s dancing in Chicago (whom she played in both London and New York) the long legacy of back problems, and displayed another extraordinary facet of her artistry, voicing the sound of a muted trumpet.

In between the songs was intimate, breathy and confessional soliloquising. The story of how Marlene Dietrich, on learning that Lemper was being labelled “la nouvelle Marlene”, phoned the then 24-year-old to talk, was mesmerising.

Lemper’s implicit theatricality was matched by chemistry with her musicians – brilliant pianist Vana Gierig and bassist Giuseppe Bassi. She may channel the likes of Dietrich and Piaf, with a strong sense of Jean Ross (on whom Christopher Isherwood based Sally Bowles), but Lemper is still very much her own woman.