BWW Review: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2019: UTE LEMPER - RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE at Thebarton Theatre
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 8th June 2019.
In 1988, Ute Lemper had a three-hour telephone conversation with Marlene Dietrich, recreated here in Ute Lemper - Rendezvous with Marlene for the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Lemper tells Dietrich's life story, punctuated with many of the songs that we associate with her. Just as Dietrich was one of the biggest names and most respected Kabarett performers of her day, so Lemper fills that role in today's cabaret scene, whilst maintaining strong links to the seminal years during the Weimar republic.
At the age of 24, early in her career, the Parisian press referred to Ute Lemper as "la nouvelle Marlene" in response to her Molière Award winning performance in the lead role of Sally Bowles in a French production of the musical, Cabaret, prompting her to write a letter to Dietrich apologising for the attention from the media and their comparison. Dietrich was then 78 and a bedridden recluse, never leaving her apartment in Avenue Montaigne, near the Champs-Elysées, her only links to the world being newspapers, letters, and her telephone. Her telephone bill was around three thousand dollars a month, and there were thousands of books in her apartment. Lemper was in disbelief when Dietrich rang her, and talked for those three hours. This is not, though, a dry documentary. Ute Lemper the actress is to the fore in this performance, playing Dietrich telling her own story.
This is far more than a chronology of her life and career. Lemper takes us deeper into the mind of Dietrich, her personal memories, her loves, her thoughts, her feelings, her many sexual encounters, and her relationships, that with Germany, and that with her daughter, Maria Riva, both sad and tragic. Her daughter wrote a damning book about her lack of love from Marlene, who substituted it, and her presence, with money, and telling everything, warts and all. At Dietrich's pleading, she held publication of the book, Marlene Dietrich - The Life by Her Daughter, until her mother had died.
Lemper's performance as Dietrich is exceptional, aided by, like Dietrich, being fluent in English and French, as well as their native German. On top of that are her sensational interpretations of the many songs that link the sections of the monologue, beginning with Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone, the anthem for youth lost to wars. Nearing the end of her life, Irving Ceasar's Just a Gigolo, from 1929, is a poignant reminder of one's mortality, and the sadness of dying alone, and Johnny Mercer's One For My Baby, continued that theme of loneliness. In just those first three songs it was clear that we were going to hear some superb arrangements and interpretations during the remainder of the evening.
The songs were wide ranging and eclectic, with Bob Dylan's Blowing in The Wind; alongside Frank Loesser and Friedrich Hollaender's The Boys in the Backroom, Hollaender's Lola, from her first film from 1930, Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), and, of course, perhaps her biggest hit, Lili Marleen (Lili Marlene), the Hans Leip poem that was set to music by Norbert Schultze. Fredrich Hollaender, naturally, featured again with Black Market and The Ruins of Berlin. Burt Bacharach, her occasional music director, and film director, Billy Wilder, featured in both the monologue and the songs, as did Edith Piaf. Lemper's rendition of Belgian cabaret star, Jacques Brel's, Ne me quitte pas was deeply moving, its German lyrics saying "Do not go", a desperate plea to a lover who is leaving, rather than the insipid English version, "If you go away".
Pianist, Vana Gierig, led the quartet, a standard jazz trio of piano, bass, Romain Lecuyer, and drums, Matthias Daneck, plus Cyril Garac on violin, the musicians providing impeccable accompaniment and support.
It was all too quickly over, though, and standing ovations brought forth an encore, but the audience would have stayed all night, given the chance.
In retrospect, of course, Lemper was perfectly correct. She is not the new Dietrich; she is the one and only, original, Ute Lemper.