BWW Review: KATHARINE MEHRLING revisits THE STREETS OF BERLIN at Joe's Pub
Take a healthy dose of Edith Piaf's fervor, a pinch of Judy Garland's throbbing vulnerability, a dash of Marlene Dietrich's sleek streetwise sexiness, and top it off with a sprinkle of Bernadette Peters' raspy show-biz pluck, and you just might get Katharine Mehrling.
Acclaimed by the Vaudeville Variety as "Berlin's Most Celebrated Voice," in her New York concert debut last year, Mehrling apparently stopped the show with four standing ovations.
If that rarified 'lighting in a bottle' wasn't quite captured in her return Saturday evening to Joe's Pub, it nevertheless proved Mehrling to be a consummate artist and an exciting discovery stateside. Katharine Mehrling. Take note; it's a name you'll want to remember.
A five-time winner of the Berlin Theatre Association's Best Actress Award for performances in musicals like EVITA, NEXT TO NORMAL, and END OF THE RAINBOW, Mehrling, for her return to the New York cabaret stage, instead chose to focus on the "Streets of Berlin," a subject close to the native German's heart. Weaving the tradition of the European chanson with stories from her own life as the child of cabaret owners in a still divided Berlin, Mehrling, through the music of Kurt Weill, Friedrich Hollaender, and most especially Edith Piaf, offers a compelling and personal self portrait.
With an excellent duo of musicians (Ferdinand von Seebach on piano and Niklass Lukassen on bass) Mehrling, not surprisingly, reveals herself throughout this journey to be a first rate and exacting interpreter of the Weimer era. The voice is warm and powerful; the phrasing and diction sharp and focused. With a song list performed largely in French and German, familiar melodies ("The Bilbao Song," "Falling in Love Again," "Naughty Lola," "Milord,") sit aside a playful spin on the lederhosen perennial, "Erzherzog Johan Yodler," and even an original composition by Mehrling herself; the haunting "Straßen von Berlin (Streets of Berlin)."
The evening's biggest applause, however, seems reserved for two numbers performed in English: "Rock a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" (first made famous by Al Jolson) and "This is My Life" (Bruno Canfora's anthem turned signature song for Shirley Bassey) delivered in a huge, to-the-rafters belt, and it's fun to imagine Mehrling, in future concerts, taking on more material from the American Songbook.
But for now, with "Streets of Berlin," Katharine Mehrling has made a welcome New York return. Closing the evening with (naturally) Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien," delivered with steely resolve in sterling fashion, one can't help but be reminded of a bemused comment she'd mentioned earlier in the evening. When her new American O-1 work visa arrived, she discovered that it lists Katharine Mehrling as a "German Alien with Extraordinary Abilities."
Watching her myriad of gifts unfold on the Joe's Pub stage, it's hard to disagree.