Karen Kohler: Das Kabarett

Karen Kohler

“Das Kabarett” takes the songs of Berlin and Paris and moves towards more modern-day work with strong story-telling content from Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Jacques Brel.

Karen Kohler

“..instrumental in maintaining an interest in the roots of European cabaret tradition..”

Born in Frankfurt and emigrated to America at the age of five, Karen Kohler grew up with the influences of both continents.  Her interest in music began as a child, but it was much later that a desire to sing professionally developed.  At college, she only took music as a second subject to international studies in the hope of becoming a cultural attaché to the German Embassy in Washington, and eventually she went on to become a top manager of Whole Foods Market (!)  She gave up that well paid position to sing.

As a soprano, her initial training was classical and she studied arias, Lieder, opera and theatre. Later, having moved to Texas, she became interested in blues, bluegrass and folk, but her epiphany moment came in 1992 on hearing a recording of Kurt Weil’s “The Threepenny Opera”. This was to lead not only to the birth of the show currently playing at The Crazy Coqs, but the founding of Kabarett Kollektif, an award-winning ensemble of 14 performers, comprising of singers stemming from all over Europe living in New York, specializing in European cabaret arts.  She has, thus, been instrumental in maintaining an interest in the roots of European cabaret tradition, and an inspiration to those who perform it.

“Das Kabarett” takes the songs of Berlin and Paris and moves towards more modern-day work with strong story-telling content from Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Jacques Brel.  She sings predominantly in classical, though not operatic style, often holding end notes of a phrase to the full value, which is not a technique normally associated with this genre. There is a certain sweetness about her delivery too, which serves well as a contrast to the biting lyrics of Friedrich Hollander’s “Nimm Dich in Acht vor Blonden Fraun (Beware of Blondes)”.

Her spoken translations during the songs works well adding atmosphere as well as clarity, and her patter on the history of the Weimar Kabarett is interesting and sets the piece in context.

Karen’s version of “Surabaya Johnny” stands out here, because both her classical style and Sprechgesang ( speech singing) were used to tell the story, bringing out the character’s vulnerability. I also enjoyed her part English part German “Ballade von Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife).

In general, though, whilst Karen’s chosen style enables original interpretation of the work of the period, I would have liked to hear rather more vocal variation in this section of the show, bringing in more of her fine lower register and employing more speech quality and guttural sounds to provide dramatic contrast.

Very effective, however, were an excellent arrangement of “Bei Mir Bist du Sheyn”, sung in duet with her pianist Leigh Thompson, Noel Coward’s “Twentieth Century Blues” and a chilling theatrical portrayal of Nick Cave’s “God is in the House”. These numbers serve as illustrations of the continuation of storytelling and political comment in cabaret throughout the 20th century, and more recently.

Leigh Thompson provides able support on the piano and with additional vocals and the two blend well.

This is an interesting and quite unusual evening, especially for aficionados of European cabaret and cabaret history, with some great material presented in combinations not normally seen. Hats off to Karen Kohler for helping to keep this tradition alive, and the songs before the current cabaret- going public.

About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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4 Responses to Karen Kohler: Das Kabarett

  1. Karen Kohler says:

    Dear Fiona, I’m just back from touring your beautiful England a bit after my run of shows and my lecture in London, and wanted to thank you for this lovely and considered review of “Das Kabarett.” I’m sorry we did not get to meet and chat after the show. However, I will be coming back to the Crazy Coqs in late October to reprise another hit, this time with KT Sullivan, called “Vienna to Weimar.” I hope we can spend a little more time then. Have a splendid rest of summer! Fondly, Karen

  2. Pingback: KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler: From Vienna to Weimar | Capital Cabarets And Other Shows Scene

  3. Pingback: Introducing, Fiona-Jane! - Excess All Areas

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