By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner.
May 20, 2013
Without even leaving the Crystal Terrace room, the audience was transported by Ute Lemper to Berlin, Paris and Buenos Aires during “The Last Tango in Berlin.” The first of a two-night engagement at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis, the German cabaret star’s show opened Thursday, May 16.
A stage and film actor, Lemper’s theatrical credits include a recreation of the Marlene Dietrich-created Lola in “The Blue Angel,” the original European Sally Bowles in the Paris production of “Cabaret,” the title role in “Peter Pan” and Velma Kelly in the West End’s “Chicago.” Lemper is acclaimed for her interpretations of Berlin cabaret songs and the works of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. She is also celebrated for her renderings of French singers Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf, as well as her interpretation of the music of Argentinean Tango composer Astor Piazzolla.
Tall, svelte and sensual, with her blonde hair in a ‘40s do and wearing a black, pleated gown, the retro-looking Lemper personified style and elegance as she quickly established herself as a dynamic performer whose every expressive movement was motivated by passion. Lemper’s vocal and dramatic talents allowed her to traverse a vividly colorful, emotional landscape — ranging from sexy to angelic to sultry to agitated — all contributing to a riveting performance that was mesmerizing.
Lemper was accompanied by Vana Gierig on piano and Tito Castro on bandoneón, a type of concertina which Lemper explained originated in Germany but made its way to Argentina where it became incorporated into local music, such as tango.
“Falling in Love,” sung by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film “The Blue Angel,” was Lemper’s opening number performed during an eclectic set list that included the work of some of the aforementioned artists and others. Lemper’s jazz-flavored rendition of that iconic song — followed by “Milord,” a chanson made famous by Piaf, and Weill’s “Tango Ballade” — foreshadowed things to come from a versatile performer whose personality and range of talent makes it impossible to categorize her.
Throughout her act Lemper also showed her skills as a teacher, as she introduced songs with interesting and often dramatic commentary regarding their origins and the times in which they were written. Much was shared about German history and politics, including the Weimar Republic, the period between the two world wars, the Nazis and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Several times Lemper, who now resides in New York City, indicated her disdain for Angela Merkel by making snide comments about the German Chancellor. Not shying away from the Holocaust, the most shameful chapter of Germany’s history, Lemper acknowledged it by singing a Yiddish folk song.
Lemper further reinforced her musical dexterity while singing “Naughty Lola,” also sung by Dietrich in “The Blue Angel.” Wearing a red boa and bowler hat, Lemper ended the song, which closed Act 1, with a prolonged solo in which she replicated the sound of a trumpet, to the amazement of the audience that gave her a standing ovation at its conclusion.
Act 2 of Lemper’s international musical journey began with a trip to Buenos Airs via Piazzolla’s “Yo Soy Maria” and “Los Parjaros Perdidos,” and then back again to Paris with Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en rose,” and Brel’s “The Port of Amsterdam.”
A spectacular highlight of Lemper’s show was its conclusion, when she sang Weill/Brecht’s “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (“The Ballad of Mack the Knife”) from “The Threepenny Opera,” throughout which were interspersed excerpts from title songs from “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” (both shows in which Lemper starred) and Weill/Brecht’s “Whiskey Bar.”
Returning to the stage after another prolonged standing ovation, Lemper launched into an intensely heartfelt interpretation of “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”).
For tickets and information about the Cabaret at the Columbia Club’s 2013 summer/fall season, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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