By: Paulanne Simmons
November 29, 2020: In 1988, when Ute Lemper received the Molière Award for her performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in Paris, she was certainly very happy. But what really amazed and delighted the German-born actress, was when she was compared to the legendary Marlene Dietrich. As Dietrich was also living Paris at the time, Lemper sent her a postcard addressed simply to Dietrich at Avenue Montaigne. Not long afterwards she got a phone call.
The phone conversation lasted three hours. During that time, Dietrich, who was 89, looked back on her life: her rise from a Weimar cabaret performer to a Hollywood star, her many love affairs, her work as an American soldier during World War II, her triumphs and her disappointments. Thirty years later, Lemper turned that conversation into her “personal homage to that great lady.”
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene recreates that phone conversation in cabaret form, allowing the audience to see Dietrich much as she must have appeared in those early Weimar days. Lemper plays herself only briefly, to set the scene. The rest is pure Dietrich, with Lemper singing many of the star’s most beloved songs.
Lemper is a gifted actress with a powerful and emotive voice. She mimics all of Dietrich’s marvelous ticks and she has the sexy legs that are de rigueur in a show about the diva. Like Dietrich, she speaks and sings in English, German and French. She also reproduces Dietrich’s husky, sexy voice, and then some. Lemper has a vocal range that far exceeds anything Dietrich could have ever dreamed of.
In a slinky dress, sporting one of Dietrich’s signature top hats or throwing a boa over her shoulders, Lemper belts, croons or purrs a repertoire that includes Leonello Casucci’s “Just A Gigolo,” Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “One For My Baby,” Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” and Friedrich Hollaender’s “They Call Me Naughty Lola.” But perhaps the most touching moments are when Lemper sings Pete Seeger’s mournful “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” or the song soldiers on both sides during World War II made their own, Norbert Schulze and Hans Leip’s “Lili Marleen.”
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene began as a touring cabaret show. Now, after being filmed at Club Cumming in New York, Alan Cumming and Ute Lemper are streaming the show online. This allows them to take advantage of all the cinematic effects that cannot be realized in a live performance: fades, montage, smooth scene shifts.
As Lemper tells us many times during the show, Dietrich was a woman who lived every day to the fullest, while at the same placing one foot in the future. She was a sexually liberated woman, with an open marriage and affairs with men and women, who ranged from co-stars to technicians to whoever pleased her at the moment. She would not tolerate anyone telling her what to do, whether that was the Fuhrer or director Alfred Hitchcock. She was totally independent.
Nevertheless, an aging Dietrich is filled with regret. She has left the one man she really loved Jean Gaban. She is alienated from her daughter, Maria, who rightly claims she was not a very good mother. Germans consider her a traitor and do not welcome her back.
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene is over two hours long. It is never boring. This is partly due to the nature of the legendary star who inspired the show. But it is also thanks to Lemper’s great artistry and sensitive treatment of her material.
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene will be stream online on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 at 8:00pm (EST) and Saturday, December 5, 2020 at 2:00pm (EST). Tickets are $25 and may be purchased athttps://www.stellartickets.com/events/club-cumming-productions/ute-lemper-in-rendezvous-with-marlene.