Ute Lemper might have thought Perth was cold – she told us twice – in German and French, but the lady on the night was hot and the Perth crowd warmly enthusiastic. The New York based girl from Münster (the northern German university city), took us on a very personal journey through the love poems of the Chilean Noble Prize winner, Pablo Neruda and after interval, into songs from the likes of Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel.
In so many ways, this was musical theatre at it’s very best. Ute – pronounced “oota” – Lemper gave us the lover, the vamp, the siren, the lost and even the dangerous. And the musicians were of the same master class as the musicians Leonard Cohen plays with, each instrument a voice of its own. There was a moment, as Victor Villena’s bandoneon took over from Micha Moltoff’s violin, when it was impossible to tell which instrument still had the note. Vana Gierig’s jazz influenced piano, John Benthal’s guitar and Steve Millhouse’s double bass are central to Lemper’s performance with the bandoneon and violin adding haunting pathos, you’d go to see these guys even if Ute couldn’t be with them.
She sang the love poems in Spanish, occasionally breaking into the more accessible, (for this enthralled audience member), French and English, but love and heartache is an international language and Lemper gives wonderful theatre, so little was lost. The last of the poems, “The Saddest Poem / NR.20” was a tour de force and her scat singing beyond astounding.
Interval over, the lady reappeared, the blood red gown of tempestuous love, replaced by shimmering cabaret black and Lemper went back to her roots, simpering into Berlin dialect with Marlene Dietrich’s “Die Fesche Lola”, segueing into “Lili Marleen.” I have to admit her interpretation unaccountably brought tears to my eyes, as she lent on Villena’s shoulder and sung the haunting, beautiful song. Then she led us into the brothels of “Amsterdam,” with Brel’s bitter/ sweet portrait of sailors, ports and prostitutes. Not many people can pull this song off, however she equalled Scott Walker’s version, singing in both French and English. Gierig then left the keyboard, exiting stage right, returning with a bowler hat and cabaret was on in earnest, as the musicians began Kurt Weill’s Die Moritat von Mackie Messer“ (“Mack the Knife”). Lemper blended this into “Cabaret”. It was utterly spellbinding.
There was more ”Milord”, but not enough. This lady is at the top of her game, giving us an unforgettable night of love, poetry, music, theatre and passion and I swear she looked at me in my second row seat and said “Et toi’ as she bade us farewell. Ne me quitte pas!
Eastern States audiences still have the opportunity to catch one of her magnificent performances, in Melbourne: Wed 18 September at the Arts Centre, Adelaide: Sat 21 September at the Barton Theatre and Sydney: Mon 23 September at the Sydney Opera House.