Date: 6 Feb 2020
By: Brian Butler
From the moment the languid full-throated bluesy voice sings Falling In Love Again you know that the next 150 minutes in the company of performer Ute Lemper and subject Marlene Dietrich is going to be pure gold – and so it is.
Supported by keyboards, double bass, violin and drums Miss Lemper recreates a phone conversation she had with the reclusive octogenarian more than 30 years ago.
Marlene was a phone addict – calling the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and other leaders to give them the benefit of her advice. The show’s premise is based solidly in Ute’s recollections of her 3-hour conversation which ranged over happiness in sexual encounters to anger and sadness about the rise of the Nazis.
The 20-something rising star had been dubbed “ The new Marlene “ by the French press after her stage opening in Cabaret and the old superstar was clearly intrigued. Ute tells us that Marlene was a woman of the future with a message to give to all of us – the need to stop asking questions about the past in order to make a better future.
Marlene declares “ If I had my life again I would live it all the same , except I’d start earlier.”
What Ute gives us is a picture of a sad and funny, highly sexed, amazingly talented woman and she cleverly weaves appropriate songs into the narrative – such as the deeply-throated Just a Gigolo.
Her time with composer Burt Bacharach led her to Vegas , represented here by the drunkard’s lament One For My Baby, where Lemper seems to hang onto the notes in a vain attempt at keeping a grip on reality.
But the central phone conversation is no interview as Marlene says abruptly “ I don’t want to answer questions , I want to talk … about myself. “
The songs are often bitter and sharp – Marlene’s preference was for sad songs – and in Black Market there is a searing level of cynicism in the ruins of post-war Berlin – “ want to buy some illusions – slightly used, almost new ? “ she asks.
And Ute’s great skill is not to impersonate but to inhabit the character – from the bitter Where Have All the Flowers Gone to the deeply emotional Blowin in The Wind. The performer switches effortlessly between 3 women – the 50-something Ute of today, the 20-something aspiring actress and the octogenarian star living in squalor trapped in the prison of her Paris apartment.
There’s much comedy in the night – as when Marlene reels off a list of her lovers – from JFK and his father to Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles and Edith Piaf and Mae West. The only one she admits evaded her clutches was Judy Garland.
But there was only one true love in her life – the French movie star Jean Gabin whom she left but loved for the rest of her life – here brought to musical life in a haunting sometimes semi-whispered version of Ne Me Quitte Pas , which tears at our hearts.
The simple staging is augmented by a few essential props and costumes and it is when Marlene emerges in a glittery golden frock by Dior which she made Hitchcock buy her for the film Stagefright, that she seems to rise and truly glow in her all-important key light on stage.
Ute is every inch the “ new Marlene “ and she brings us a theatrical event that will be talked about for years to come by new generations encountering Dietrich for the first time.
A staggering night of pure-diamond entertainment.
Rendezvous is on tour – see February’s edition of Gscene for Brian Butler’s full-length interview with Ute.
Click here to read the review on GScene