While Manhattan cabaret is no longer a room filled with the curling smoke of cigarettes and there’s more designer water on the tables than champagne, there are some things that never change. Ute Lemper’s debut at the Cafe Carlyle is a reflective composite of another era that conjures images of Lenya in Berlin, Piaf in Paris and a little touch of Dietrich in the night.
Lemper is an attractively lean, sultry chanteuse who sings telling and picturesque story songs in Yiddish, German, French and English. In this rare club appearance, she serves as travel guide and hostess on a “Voyage” to places “between yesterday and tomorrow, and places between war and peace.” Her well-designed program is performed with just enough narrative to set up a song.
Lemper brings a savvy stage presence to tunes ranging from Jacques Brel’s saucy tale of beer-drinking sailors, “Amsterdam,” to the sweet reflective sadness of Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson’s “September Song.” She vamps the Weill-Brecht cruise through whiskey bars, “Alabama Song,” with wonderful worldly abandon.
An inspired segment finds Lemper donning a fedora to merge Weill’s timeless “Moritat” (better known as “Mack the Knife”) with Kander & Ebb’s seductive Broadway clarion “All That Jazz.” Just when you thought you might have had quite enough of ol’ Mackie, Lemper makes the merger a perfect sassy definition of divine decadence.
Perched on the piano, in a sophisticated pose straight out of classic film noir, Lemper closes her stunning hour with “La Vie en Rose.”
Ute Lemper’s “Voyage” is a journey worth taking. She’s appearing at Royce Hall in Los Angeles March 12.