Ute Lemper was still fresh on the boards when critics began comparing her to Marlene Dietrich. Though Lemper was born 60 years later, she shared the same kind of alluring beauty and glamour that had made Dietrich a Hollywood star. It wasn’t their voice so much as the cool sophistication they both brought to the stage and screen, the arched eyebrows and sculpted cheekbones that the camera so loved, a sinuous sexiness, and a similar free-spiritedness, not to mention complicated relationships with their motherland.

Ute Lemper. Photo © Lucas Allen

“Ute Lemper has a face that instantly turns to black and white in your memory,” wrote theatre reviewer Ben Brantley in The New York Timeswhen Lemper played Velma Kelly in Chicagoon Broadway in 1998. “[She] gives the impression that she has been personally lighted by George Hurrell, the old-style Hollywood portrait photographer who wrought such miracles in bringing out cheekbones.”

In 1996, having already won universal praise for her interpretation of songs by the likes of Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Astor Piazzolla, Lemper recorded an album called Berlin Cabaret Songs. Featuring numbers by...

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