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Lemper finds the lyrical poetry in her music

May 02, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Cabaret music takes many forms. From jazz-tinged standards to Broadway belting, from the intimate political theater of the Weimar Republic era to the folk sounds of Greenwich Village in the '40s and '50s. And a lot more.

German singer Ute Lemper has the skill to touch all those bases and do so in her unique fashion.

Wednesday at the Conga Room, in a relatively rare club appearance (her usual venues are theaters and concert halls), she applied her extraordinary talents to a multilingual set overflowing with dramatic and musical riches.

Much of the material came from her latest album, "But One Day," and she interspersed the songs with a running narration about love, life, death, decadence and capitalism -- all extremely valid cabaret subjects.

Alternately sardonic and witty, cool and intense, aggressive and vulnerable, she roved the stage in masterful fashion, captivating her listeners with every gesture.

Lemper is, of course, an established actress (she replaced Bebe Neuwirth in the Broadway cast of "Chicago"), and she is fully capable of selling a song with phrasing, gesture and physical movement alone. But, although all those qualities were superbly present (she moved into the audience at one point to vamp one of her listeners), the heart of her performance throbbed most impressively in her musicality, in her ability to find the lyrical poetry in her material.

Never content to remain in a fixed artistic orbit, she set aside the more contemporary songs in her Royce Hall performance of a few years ago (as well as in a previous album, "Punishing Kiss") in favor of a broadly international set of classics.

Among the high points: her remarkable transformations of the music of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill through gripping renderings of "Bilbao Song," "Alabama Song" and "Moritat" ("Mack the Knife"). She also gave us a stunningly intimate reading of Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas," several originals and a taste of Astor Piazzolla.

By the time Lemper was finished, the capacity crowd had experienced a mesmerizing display of the very essence of the cabaret art.


Ute Lemper

Where: The Conga Room, 5364 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: Today, 9 p.m.

Price: $37.50-$85.

Contact: (323) 938-1696.

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