“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.
“..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.