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Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene -Club Cumming Productions

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Creator and Writer: Ute Lemper

Director: Evan Quinn

Merging style with substance, Rendezvous with Marlene pays tribute to the iconic film star, Marlene Dietrich. Drawing upon a conversation between its subject and its star Ute Lemper, what is remarkable is that this show is not an academic exercise.

In 1988, the paths of Lemper and Dietrich crossed when Lemper starred as Sally Bowles in a production of Cabaret. Her striking resemblance to the German star allowed critics to dub her ‘the new Marlene’. Even though Lemper was awarded the Moliere Award for her performance, she was mortified at being compared to the legend and fired off a postcard apologising to Dietrich. Returning home after work a few days later, Ute was informed that Marlene had rung, asking to speak to her. Rushing to her phone, Lemper took the call. It lasted three hours.

Taking inspiration from that extraordinary call, Lemper created a one-woman show, celebrating the life and music of Dietrich. Appearing in cabaret at the Arcola Theatre in 2019, Rendezous with Marlene is unashamedly evocative. In this version, filmed in Alan Cumming’s bar in New York, we are – from the very first note – drawn into the cabaret world. The stage is perfectly lit; Lemper greets us like old friends. She introduces the show, discussing how her biography has intersected with Dietrich’s over the years. They have lived and worked in the same places; both women finding success interpreting the music of Kurt Weill.

Lemper uses monologue as a bridge between the 5-star song list. Featuring some of Dietrich’s most important music, including Lili Marleen and Falling in Love Again, Lemper paints a picture of Dietrich. It is a highly sympathetic portrait; but when your subject is an androgynous, polygamous anti-fascist, it’s hard to argue against Lemper’s clearly affectionate look at this complex and fascinating woman.

The monologues piece together the phone-call between Ute and Marlene. As Dietrich gossips with Ute, she drifts off into memories of her career: Her star-making role in Blue Angel; the move to Hollywood and Paramount Pictures. Lemper’s Dietrich casts such a spell that we soak up every detail, including that scandalous roll-call of Hollywood lovers.

Of course, it’s not just Dietrich on the stage. As a musical theatre veteran, Lemper blends Dietrich’s tone with her own bravura voice. As Dietrich learns that the emotion is sat in-between the notes of a song, Lemper uses her familiarity with jazz to create beautiful new interpretations of Dietrich classics. One for My Baby and Laziest Gal in Town are particular highlights.

Lemper, as a performer, understands the link between a singer and their music. As we move from Dietrich’s time in Weimar cabaret to the heart of Hollywood, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Ruins of Berlin depict the troubled relationship Dietrich had with her homeland. An ex-pat, and highly critical of her country’s fall to Nazism, Lemper illustrates this tension as Dietrich moves from English to German, slipping in and out, as if in a dream. Dietrich knew the importance of paying attention to history. Lemper doesn’t have to reach too far in drawing parallels with our own era.

Filmed for an online audience, Rendezvous retains that sense of intimacy so important for a cabaret show. The camera pulls in tightly, reinforcing the idea that we are sat in the dark, taking it all in. While other shows have struggled to make the same impact online, Rendezvous feels made for the digital age. Lemper, sensational as Dietrich, is very comfortable in front of the camera. She seduces her audience, as if we were in touching distance.

Impeccably styled but with plenty to say, Rendezvous provides a welcome dose of glamour. Where Hollywood meets the West End, this is theatre to savour. Pour yourself a drink, pull up a chair. Marlene’s waiting.

Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene, filmed at Club Cumming in New York with Alan Cumming and Ute Lemper as producers, will be streamed globally on three evenings this month –
Thursday, 19 November at 19.00 (UK time), Wednesday 25 November at 01.00 and Saturday, 5 December 2020 at 19.00.

Booking link: https://www.stellartickets.com/events/club-cumming-productions/ute-lemper-in-rendezvous-with-marlene 

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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