By Scott Shoger, NUVO
May 17, 2013
Berlin-raised cabaret singer Ute Lemper can knock out a songspiel with the best of em – putting across Brecht and Weill’s brusque modernity with all due respect – but her style owes as much to jazz, as evidenced by growling blue notes and brilliant scat solos (I sincerely hope I’m quoted in saying that nobody plays the mouth trumpet like Lemper).
Lemper’s Thursday night performance at the Cabaret ranged across Europe (with one overseas trip), starting from “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It),” and working in songs by Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Astor Piazzolla as the night went on. She filled in the gaps between songs with vignettes from European history, including memorable riffs on a divided Berlin (complete with Angela Merkel jokes) and the bandoneon (a German-born that made its way across the sea to hasten the development of Argentine tango).
A convincing actress with a versatile voice that can be gruff and pretty at turns, Lemper did a nice job translating parts of given songs (either by miming or actually singing verses in English), while performing enough in the original language to acknowledge those willing to forgo their mother tongue for an hour or two. Tango popped up both before and after intermission (the show is titled Last Tango in Berlin), first via “Tango Ballad” from Threepenny, later in the form of two Piazzolla songs, “Yo soy Maria” and “Los pajaros perdidos.”
The show closed with a nifty, spirited medley drawing again on Brecht and Weill (“Mack the Knife,” “Alabama Song”) with stops for Kander and Ebb (“Cabaret,” “All That Jazz”). She indulged an audience request for Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” as an encore, briefly protesting that it’s “such a sad song,” and besides, one of the guys in the front row of the audience (we’ll call him Galen, for that was the name he gave) doesn’t know French. It was, as she warned, a heartbreaking rendition of a song that needs no translation.
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