As I was leaving Blood & Feathers, Ute Lemper's newest show at the Café Carlyle, my companion remarked on how refreshing it was to see a truly unique performer versus the mediocrity that normally assails our senses. I could not agree more. In a world in which coarse is good, dumb is better still, and cookie-cutter shows and performances receive more accolades than something truly original, seeing Ute Lemper perform is more than a breath of fresh air: it's a hurricane. Who else would open a cabaret show with "Pirate Jenny" from Brecht/Weill's masterpiece Die Dreigroschenoper? Or would wait until nearly fifteen minutes into the show to speak in English to an American audience? And then spend half of her first patter break reciting a poem by Jacques Prévert (first in the original French, then in English)? In short, Ute Lemper is to traditional cabaret what Sweeney Todd and The Wild Party are to Good Vibrations or Cats.
Blood & Feathers (the title of a song penned by Lemper) is in some ways a 'best of' compilation, since a great deal of material in the show was culled from her over two decades worth of recordings. The songs chosen, however, lean more towards the 'blood' end of the spectrum and less towards the 'feathers' (when "Lilli Marlene" and "The Ladies Who Lunch" are among the 'safe' songs, you know you are in for a treat). While it takes a while for the show to find its rhythm, as the first third (which includes "Pirate Jenny," the Piaf standard "Milord," her title tune - which is a mesmerizing 'Moonlight Sonata meets Brecht/Weill' tone poem - and "Ladies Who Lunch") is not as cohesive as the second third, a 15 minute 'Moon Medley' (containing tunes by such disparate writers as Sting, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Harold Arlen, Weill and Tom Waits) or the exceptionally powerful final third, the show is ultimately one of the most engaging cabaret shows in recent memory and felt much shorter than its nearly 75 minutes.
The latter third of the show by itself would be worth the price of admission to the Carlyle (which, with covers ranging from $40 to $65, is surprisingly affordable, thanks to their 'no minimum' policy). From the heart-rending beauty of "Lilli Marlene" (a number highly appropriate given global circumstances), to the disturbing 'the more things change the more they stay the same' Friedrich Hollaender Weimar Republic era number "Munchausen" (which deals with abortion rights, poverty, war, justice, and a society too blinded by fantasy to deal with reality; thus sounding oh-too-familiar given today's societal and political climate), a driving "L'Accordoniste" (which shows off her quartet to marvelous effect) and an homage to Fred Ebb that combines songs from Cabaret and Chicago (both of which Lemper performed all over the globe) using the Piaf and Weill numbers that influenced Kander and Ebb as counterpoint.
Lemper is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for those who feel that musical theater reached its apex with Cats (although Lemper did get her start in the Viennese company of that august musical). However, those who enjoy being challenged and taken on a musical journey full of the unexpected will get more than their money's worth at Blood & Feathers.
Ute Lemper will be performing Blood & Feathers through February 26th at the Café Carlyle (76th and Madison) Tuesdays through Saturdays (except on Thursday nights) at 8:45pm with late shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:45pm. On Thursday nights, Ute Lemper will perform an alternate program entitled A Walk On The Weill Side. As Lemper is perhaps the foremost performer of Weill in the world, it should definitely be a show worth seeing. The cover charge is $55 during the week and $65 on weekends, with $40 seats available at the bar. There is no minimum. For reservations call 212-570-7189 or visit www.thecarlyle.com for more information.
Also see Jonathan's interview with Ute Lemper.
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