by Rob Taub
It’s appropriate that I interviewed Ute Lemper on the phone, because her new show at the Café Carlyle began thirty years ago with a phone call.
“The show I’ve created is based on a phone conversation I had with Marlene Dietrich in 1988, when we were both living in Paris,” said Lemper. At the time, Lemper was starring in the Paris production of Cabaret, and had just won a Molière — the French equivalent of a Tony Award. She was receiving a tremendous amount of attention for her performance and was being heralded as the “new Dietrich” by the press.
Lemper was embarrassed by the comparisons so she decided to write Dietrich a letter. “I explained to her that I was just starting my career and that the comparisons were inappropriate,” said Lemper. “I thanked her for inspiring me to become a performer and mentioned how much I admired her many achievements on stage and screen.”
About a month later, Lemper received a phone call from Dietrich at her hotel and they talked for three hours.” Dietrich was a recluse by that time and had not left her home for many years, but she and Lemper connected and the discussion was “incredibly rich and profound.” “She told me everything about her life – emotional and historical — and I was very overwhelmed by it all,” said Lemper. “It took me thirty years to think about it and finally be ready to put it into a show.” (Dietrich was then in her late eighties and she died four years later.)
“There’s been so much stereotyping of her,” said Lemper. “Everything I’ve seen has been stylized and artificial.” Lemper describes the Carlyle show as a “personal homage to Dietrich’s life, but telling it from my perspective,” with the show covering many of the topics discussed during their phone call.
I’ve always been a Dietrich fan ever since I was a kid when I first saw her in the movie, Pittsburgh, with John Wayne. Dietrich was sexy, tough and funny and her comic timing was ever-present – even in her singing, and Lemper agrees. “It was said that she spoke the language of men during her time,” said Lemper. The great director Billy Wilder loved to say that Dietrich was a fantastic buddy to spend time with and he – a great wit himself – loved her ribald sense of humor.
I often lament that we have so few real multi-talented stars today, and we too easily forget great performers from the past. After her film career, Dietrich toured the world for 15 years with Burt Bacharach serving as her musical director.
“She had a very rich life”
Marlene Dietrich was an enormous talent and so is Ute Lemper, who should not be missed at the Café Carlyle.
From February 27-March 3, singer/actress Ute Lemper returns to Café Carlyle with an all-new show, Rendezvous with Marlene, based on a 3-hour phone call and exchange between Marlene Dietrich and Ute in 1988.
Reservations can be made by phone at 212.744.1600 or online via Ticketweb. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street), at Madison Avenue).