Ute Lemper
Ute Lemper
There are few true originals in show business, but Ute Lemper is one of them. Despite her new-look red hair and the fact that she comes out dressed in black leather and lace, looking rather like an expensive S&M hooker, there is -- amazingly -- nothing artificial about her. Whether she's singing out of the side of her mouth or scatting with fierce Germanic intensity, it all seems somehow organic. No posing, no fakery; Lemper is the genuine article.

Her singularity is even more in evidence as a songwriter. Lemper's show at Le Jazz au Bar is called My Songs and it consists entirely of her own compositions. Make no mistake about it, they don't sound like anybody else's songs; you certainly can't describe her work as derivative or mainstream. Unlike the music for which Lemper is best known as a performer -- written by the likes of Brel and Weill -- her songs, and most particularly her lyrics, are rather opaque. They may be deeply felt and they are definitely artful, yet you may not understand every one. But, man, can Lemper sing the living daylights out of them! She displays an amazing vocal dexterity throughout the act. Her songs include dips into jazz, blues, rock, disco, middle eastern riffs, and her own brand of French romanticism and German Kabarett. The melodies soar, swoop, and dive. You'll be knocked out by Lemper's musicality -- just don't expect to leave Le Jazz Au Bar humming her tunes. It's not that kind of music.

As for content, Lemper often attacks themes on a big canvas: there are songs about the Berlin Wall, the Israeli/Arab issue, September 11, etc. Lemper's introductory patter is helpful in getting a handle on the lyrics, as they are sometimes poetic to the point of elusiveness. You're not going to get a greatest hits show when you're dealing with a relatively new songwriter; it's the nature of this kind of act that it's inevitably going to be uneven. But numbers like "Gigola" and "The Wall"/"Ghosts of Berlin" are standouts.

Lemper is appearing at Le Jazz au Bar for just this one week, through Saturday night, but she'll be playing the Café Carlyle with an entirely different show for two months at the start of 2005.

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The health and well being of cabaret was celebrated on Wednesday night this week when the downtown club Mama Rose's tossed a high-energy party to mark its first anniversary. Located on Second Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, this adventurously programmed club run by Lennie Watts offered the popular Gashole team of Michael Holland and Karen Mack as hosts of the shindig, and their pop sensibility was the keynote for the evening: A very high proportion of the singers who came up to the microphone to entertain the packed house were also pop singers.

Smartly, many of those who performed promoted their upcoming shows, the majority of which (naturally) will be at Mama Rose's. Among those who made a mark on Wednesday were Jackie Fornatale, Matt Leahy, and Tracy Stark. Steven Ray Watkins, who is fast emerging as one of cabaret's most talented and popular singer-pianists, provided one of the most effective promos for an upcoming show by singing the title song of his act, "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing." Bobby Belfry, in great voice, brought his signature high belt to a tune that he and Watkins wrote together, and Cayte Thorpe also captured our attention for her upcoming show. Lennie Watts put over a soulful "Weekend in New England." A nice surprise was the performance of Susannah DeRidge from Dublin, who will be doing a Peggy Lee show at Helen's in October.

Still, the person who put her stamp most prominently on the party -- besides singer Sue Matsuki, who brought a huge, fabulous cake -- was Kristine Zbornik. Funny, raunchy, and rousingly ridiculous, she was a strong comic presence throughout the evening. We were delighted to learn that Zbornik will be co-hosting the Mama Rose's staff show Staff Infection on September 26 with the hilarious Mark McCombs.

We don't know if anyone blew out the one candle on the cake, but here's wishing Mama Rose many happy return customers.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]