NY Cabaret Review by Paulanne Simmons
Two years ago Ute Lemper, a multi-talented performer who has starred in film, cabaret and theater, began what she calls “a project of my heart”: a musical tribute to Chilean poet, politician, diplomat and winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, Pablo Neruda.
Lemper composed the melodies in collaboration with Marcelo Nisinman and arranged them with Juan Antonio Sanchez (string arrangements) and her band John Benthal (guiear), Victor Villena (bandoneon), Vana Gierig (piano), Steve Millhouse (bass) and Micha Molthoff (violin). Then she recorded them and went on tour.
Ute Lemper Sings the Love Poems of Pablo Neruda has been performed all around the world, from Australia to the Far East to Europe and the US. Most of the songs are in the original Spanish but some have been translated into French and English. Whatever the language, the combination of words and music creates a feeling of passion, pain and great tenderness.
But what makes this show, now at 54 Below, so special is not only Lemper’s sensual and intense delivery, but also the extraordinary musicality of the songs she has created – something that is not always the case with poems set to music. Backed by a truly terrific band, Lemper’s graceful body glides and sways with the music as her voice rises and falls, always finding the exact note and the perfect expression.
When Lemper mimics the sounds of a trumpet, we realize how skillfully she turns her voice into an instrument. When she swings with “If You Forget Me,” we witness how well she has internalized American jazz and blues.
Although many of the songs in this repertoire are not in English, with an artist of Lemper’s caliber, the music speaks for itself. Lemper proves what Neruda knew so well: love is the universal language.
Ute Lemper Sings the Love Poems of Pablo Neruda, at 54 Below, 254 West 54 Street, www.54below.com, through Sept. 6th (646) 476-3551