“They know my voice, my legs, my movies but they don’t know me… “
– Marlene Dietrich
Publication: Theatre Vibe
By: Lizzie Loveridge
Date: 18th November 2020
Ute Lemper is the remarkable looking woman with the longest of fishnet clad legs who, as Velma Kelly, looked down on us from the poster for Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand. This film was made in New York at Alan Cumming’s club and is about Marlene Dietrich. She too had famous legs although one director said her legs weren’t that great but she knew how to use them.
I saw Dietrich once as a part of the Official Festival in Edinburgh and although that is more than half a century ago I remember her impressive and iconic stage presence, wearing this shimmering, full length pink gown and singing, Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” partially in German.
This show is based on Ute Lemper’s three hour telephone conversation with Dietrich in 1987 after Lemper had been hailed in Paris as the new Marlene. Lemper played Sally Bowles in Cabaret in Paris and later in 1992, was cast as Lola in a musical version of The Blue Angel, the part that launched Dietrich’s international film career in 1930. So the show combines Dietrich’s famous songs with biographical snippets about her life.
You will hear the most famous “Lili Marleen” with all its variant spellings. Dietrich was named Marie Magdalene by her parents which she shortened to Marlene. Five songs by Friedrich Hollaender feature including “They Call Me Naughty Lola”, “Boys in the Backroom” and “Fallin in Love Again”. The Jacques Brel song “Ne Me Quitte Pas” which she sings about the love of her life the French actor and singer Jean Gabin.
The show switches between Lemper as Dietrich and Lemper as herself the shy ingenue talking on the telephone to the famous diva. Lemper has great presence, starting this show singing in a bar with faint rear projections of photographs of the day, newspaper headlines about Dietrich and the Hollywood Era which Dietrich stayed in, away from Germany, which saw Hitler’s rise to power. Her husky vocals recreate Dietrich’s songbook and she has a striking physical resemblance to the blonde haired, high cheekboned, fine eyebrowed star.
As Dietrich she recalls life pre-Hitler under the Weimar republic and the freedom it gave her and reminisces how all that liberation was lost. When she returns in the 1960s to Germany, “they hated me!” she is met with shouts of “Marlene Go Home”, and “Traitor of the Fatherland” and people letting off stink bombs. She had joined the American army and sung for GI troops in battlefield area,s of course with great personal danger to herself if she had been captured. Although she said then, they didn’t know the full horrors of the concentration camps she would have been destined for one if taken. She was given awards, in France the Legion d’honneur and others by the Allies.
We hear about Dietrich’s famous list of lovers, possibly more than Messalina, a list of whom reads like the Hollywood’s Whos Who of the day, from John Wayne through Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn to Edith Piaf. About Billy Wilder she said he wasn’t such a great lover but a fabulous director! His 1948 film A Foreign Affair showed the damage to Berlin by Allied bombers and that footage is used as Dietrich talks about the shock looking at the ruins. Wilder said Dietrich knew about film lighting so as to highlight her wonderful bone structure.
Lemper as Dietrich sings Harold Arlen’s song “One for my Baby (and One More for the Road)” with a cigarette to hand and a glass of alcohol. Often she’ll wear a top hat or trousers and talk about her masculine, feminine, androgynous style and with a cigarette hanging from her generous, lipsticked mouth. She switches between English and German often in her cups.
She recalls making Frenzy with Alfred Hitchcock and asking for a gown by Christian Dior which Hitchcock said the budget wouldn’t stretch to. She replied, “No Dior. No Dietrich!” She got the Dior outfit.
Get your Martini glasses out and your feather boa to view this show to recreate the dizzying heights of Thirties hedonism with iconic, jazzy tunes and sumptuous lyrics evocatively sung by Ute Lemper.
Click here to read the full online review with song list, band details and more.