Publication: Musical Theatre Review
By: Barrie Jerram
Date: November 21, 2020
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene will be also be streamed globally on 25 November 2020 and 5 December 2020 after being filmed at Club Cumming in New York with Alan Cumming and Ute Lemper as producers.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Ute Lemper’s career, spanning over 30 years is vast and varied. She has been universally praised for her interpretations of Berlin cabaret songs, the works of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht and the chansons of Marlene Dietrich and many other famous songwriters.
Throughout her long career, Lemper has been hailed the new Dietrich and this show is her personal homage to the legend. It takes the form of a dialogue between Lemper and Dietrich, exploring Dietrich’s career and personal life from the beginning, in a timeline that eventually meets Lemper’s timeline with a continuation of their parallel stories.
Dietrich is living in a squalid Paris apartment. She is now a recluse, even her daughter Marie has abandoned her, filling her days with memories and bottles of Moet and Chandon. The telephone is her only link with the outside world. She often rings world leaders to chat and persuade them to strive for world peace.
In 1987 she phones Lemper who has written to her, and out of this three-hour call the singer and actress has created and written this show, telling some captivating secrets of her life.
Lemper alternates between the persona of the reclusive Dietrich and the performing one as well as herself. The recluse talks of her loneliness and the pains of the body and the heart. She reminisces about her many affairs, stating that love never lasts but friendships do. The public Dietrich is well known but not the personal which she wants Lemper to redress in the future.
She recalls her hatred of Hitler and the Nazis and that she renounced her Germany citizenship and took up an American one. She enlisted and toured the front lines of Europe to boost the morale of US servicemen – “her boys”. In 1943 her recording of ‘Lili Marleen’ – a song of dreams – is broadcast all over Europe. This led to a backlash in Germany which lasted for years. It was only towards the end of her career that she was welcomed back and even then there were hostile Neo-Nazis protests. Her anti-war spiel leads into a moving version of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ – half in German and half in English.
When Lemper sings she does so without slavishly impersonating the legend. With songs like ‘One For My Baby’ and ‘Just a Gigolo’ she sings in her own style with the hint of Dietrich being replaced with a jazzy delivery.
Her film work is recalled along with her relations with their directors, particularly with Billy Wilder and Von Sternberg. This enables Lemper to sing ‘The Boys in the Back Room’ and ‘They Call Me Naughty Lola’ where she dons the top hat and adopts that iconic pose on a chair. Lemper gives it a jazz treatment which is augmented by fine piano and trumpet solos.
‘Black Market’ is given a bitter delivery, telling of trading possessions and self for life’s essentials in Berlin. ‘Ruins of Berlin’ recalls memories and laments the destruction of her city.
‘The Laziest Gal In Town’ – a sexy playful delivery – is contrasted with Brel’s wistful ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ which is heart-wrenching.
French continues as Lemper takes on the character of Edith Piaf – one of Dietrich’s many female lovers – leading the gentle ballad into a swinging version of ‘I Wish You Love’.
Lemper is to be congratulated for weaving together a vast amount of information into an entertaining evening with some classic songs, often presented in her own style.
She is supported by an excellent band that augment but never dominate the singer. Musical director and piano – Vana Gierig; Jesse Mills violin; Matthew Parrish bass; Todd Turkisher drums and Tim Ouimette trumpet. The show is directed by Evan Quinn.
I think it was in 1965, at the Theatre Royal Brighton, that I had the great privilege of seeing Marlene Dietrich perform live. Wonderful memories brought back to mind by Lemper’s performance.
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Click here to read the review on the Musical Theatre Review website.