German born Ute Lemper has intermittently channeled Marlene Dietrich for much of her career. This highly theatrical show is based in large part on a three-hour phone call between the ladies in 1988. After receiving the French Molière Award for her Paris performance in Cabaret, young Lemper sent a respectful postcard to the star essentially apologizing for media attention comparing the artists.
Much to her surprise, she received a telephone call in response. From that call and, one assumes, additional research, we hear Dietrich’s ‘first person’ recollection of the vocation she seems to disdain, passionate bisexual love affairs driven by pugnacious independence – with a nod to her open marriage, strong political views, and an enormously fraught relationship with her homeland. Performance is in English, German, and French.
“People don’t know me. They know my face, my cheekbones, my allure…” Dietrich
Two songs rarely associated with Dietrich have decidedly political context: Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” -more angry and emphatic than a usually mournful rendition and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind,” here effectively a rousing wake-up call.
In “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (Lerner & Lowe) one of several Burt Bacharach arrangements utilized in Las Vegas during Dietrich’s later career, lyrics fight with interpretation. Lemper haughtily sings a middle-of-the-road arrangement without a bit of wistful regret.
“The Boys in The Backroom” (Loesser/Hollaender), or as the vocalist sings “beckroom,” delivers vibrato where Dietrich warbled. Brazen, fist-on-hip attitude ably conjures the saloon scene. “Lili Marlene” (Schultze/Leip) accompanied only by piano is rife with defeat and longing.
Highlights: “The Ruins of Berlin,” written during incarceration, is like listening to weeds push their way up between cracks in the pavement. Lemper’s arms sway out. The number moves from lament to feverish, rhythmic dance, then back, faster and faster… “Black Market”epitomizes Weimar Karabett. Part spoken, part sung, the darkly waltzy song could be a George Grosz painting depicting evil to which one has become accustomed. (Both by Fredrich Hollaender.)
Johnny Mercer’s “When the World Was Young” shows deep sadness through tough exterior. It’s simplicity affects. In “Dejeuner Du Matin” (Prevert/Kosma), the singer emerges an otherwise self-sufficient woman who bows to every selfish need of her man as in Apache dance.
Lemper is a long, sexy drink of water whose steely demeanor alternates with primal sensuality. She has a gritty voice that lends itself to an industrial strength program, pivots between satire, pain and fury, enunciates beautifully, and communicates the era with gut comprehension. Unfortunately, only once in the entire show does the vocalist look at an audience member- with a comment about his glancing at her legs. This deprives us of what should be a deeply intimate and ultimately unnerving connection.
Several selections distance themselves from Dietrich when MD/Pianist Vana Gierig injects highly contemporary riffs and Lemper vocally slip/slides or howls passages like R & B. Were the show to be comprised of fresh takes, this might serve, but couched in authenticity, it’s dissonant. The inclusion of an electric keyboard cheapens and updates whereas violin and cello enhance. Narrative, though extremely illuminating, could successfully be cut by a third, especially at the top heavy opening.
“My soul belongs to France. My heart belongs to England. Nothing belongs to Germany except my body when I’m dead.” Dietrich
Music Director/Pianist- Vana Gierig; Romain Lecuyer-Bass, Cyril Garac-Violin
Production Photos by David Andrako.
Café Carlyle presents
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene (Dietrich)
Through March 3, 2018
The Carlyle Hotel
35 East 76th Street- Entrance on Madison Avenue
Have you noticed how the image of Grandma has changed? Lesley Stahl is doing her best to remind you. Gone are the days when Marlene Dietrich was a singular amazement as she morphed the image of the sweet lady on the rocker, slinking on stage in a cloud of beads and furs to the throaty tones of “Falling in Love Again.”
The move from “come sit with me on the front porch” to “meet me at the gym” is pretty much an epidemic as cozy gives place to chic. A dynamic woman with whom I rode the M103 last week was a case in point. Having had both knees replaced in the not too distant past, she declared that she simply wouldn’t allow her grandchildren to feel they needed to take care of her. So, off they went to China. Where, she reported, travelling with children provides perfect assurance that the citizens of your host country will engage you in conversation.
GlamourGram Judy Loeb (bottom, far right) with Aunt Erica (right)
If I needed any reminder of the new world of Granny, it came when ordering brunch at a neighborhood restaurant one recent weekend. Noting our shared taste for french toast, the woman’s husband remarked that for his wife it was a bon voyage as she prepared to set off on a long-planned trip to Paris.
The plan began 12 years before when Judy Loeb became the grandmother of twin girls. Their mother’s name suggested French roots, and so triggered the idea that became a promise: that she would take the girls to Paris one day in the future. The future arrived when a quartet of adventurers were greeted by the owner of the apartment they had selected on the Ile St. Louis.
So when GlamourGram, the twins, and their Aunt Erica, who acccompanied them on the first leg of their journey from California, had enjoyed the very French breakfast their landlady had provided before she set off, their first sight and sounds of Paris happened at the nearby Notre Dame. The beauty of the Cathedral, the stories told in its legendary stained glass and the voices of a visiting choir created an impact that guaranteed that the girls were already in touch with the atmosphere that had moved their Grandmother to happy tears. They “got it.”
The Twins in front of Monet’s Water Lilies at L’Orangerie
Louis Vuitton. For some visitors to Paris it means shopping. For them it meant the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne with its signature structure by Frank Gehry. The day they visited, the futuristic structure was itself transformed into a geometry of red and green by the artist who overlaid its panels in those colors. Within, there was an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art. But taste was not confined to the visual alone. Before they left the Bois the twins met Angelina, Paris’ legendary cathedral of chocolate, which established an outpost there allowing the visiting Americans to propose a toast to their amazing day with similarly amazing hot chocolate.
At the nearby Jardin d’Acclamation, the twins were introduced to the 19th century origins of the landmark/sometime zoo established in 1860. The trampolines they found there gave them the chance to express exhilaration. But the literal high point of discovery came when they spied the Jardin’s contemporary roller coaster. Having paid the 12-year old’s entry charge and preparing to wave them off on their ride, GlamourGram and Aunt Erica were urged by the attendant to ride along, at no cost. The scary moment of truth could not be avoided. With audible gulps the entire foursome was buckled in. The screams of the adults were equaled only by the giggles of the preteens. Being the foursome they were, you can guess which pair was most grateful to embrace the return to solid ground.
Meals delivered french classics unencumbered by the hauteur of the 5-star premises. They regularly elevated the stature of state of the art french bread and cheese, moutarde and gherkins shared in the “plein air” of the Luxembourg Garden.
Judy Loeb didn’t have to wait for grandmotherhood to become a poster-person for surprising innovation. As the daughter of a respected maker of men’s shirts she created a new blend, putting her college study of design into a successful turn as designer of a fashion-forward line of women’s shirts. This evolved into a career in fashion design.
Marriage and pregnancy brought her a fresh focus. She became a trend setter by creating a fashion T-shirt that featured the word “Baby” in large letters and with an arrow pointing to the evidence that this was a design born of reality. When requests and demands for her bold design increased, not just the baby was born, but also an innovative maternity-wear label called Sweet Mama.
After a brief sojourn in California, Judy returned to her native New York and a career in candidate advocacy with Emily’s List.
The day may come when GlamourGram’s twin girls take it for granted that their father’s mother is the accurate and expected definition of grandmother. But in their hearts, and in their memories of spring 2016 they will probably know better. And I hesitate to guess what surprising memories they will hatch for future children of the later 21st century.
One day soon, I will rush back to the neighborhood restaurant where Skip’s humorous observation about french toast set me on a delightful voyage of discovery. If you have any bright ideas of what I should order, be sure to let me know.
Photo credit: Judy Loeb. Of the opening photo, Loeb says, “Came upon this bakery just at the right moment. Bought pastries and bread here for our picnic in the Jardin Luxembourg.”
Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears every Sunday