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Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester
By Kris Noteboom
If you were sitting alone in your room and not at Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester Saturday, you missed out.
Richardson — Time travel does exist and it's music to the ears. And the time travel portal was in the unlikeliest of places on Saturday night, the stage of the Hill Performance Hall at Richardson's Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts. That's where the audience was treated to Max Raabe und das Palast Orchester, the 1930s inspired orchestra led by the baritone with the silky smooth voice.
Founded in 1985 by Raabe, the Palast Orchester features Cecilia Crisafulli (violin), Thomas Huder (trumpet, vocals), Michael Enders (trumpet, vocals), Jörn Ranke (trombone, viola, vocals), Bernd Frank (tenor sax, clarinet), Johannes Ernst (alto sax, clarinet), Sven Bährens (alto sax, clarinet), Rainer Fox (baritone sax, clarinet, vocals), Vincent Riewe (drums, percussion), Bernd Hugo Dieterich (double bass, sousaphone), Ulrich Hoffmeier (guitar, banjo, violin) and Ian Wekwerth (piano).
The group specializes in popular hits from the 1920s and 1930s. Specifically the music of Weimar Germany, but also dabbling in American music by the likes of Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.
Dressed in white tie and tails, Raabe calmly strode to the microphone with his orchestra, also dressed in tuxedos, minus the lovely Ms. Crisafulli, who wore a flowing red gown. They immediately launched into their first number, a catchy German tune.
At the conclusion of the song, Raabe calmly gave the authorship, title and year the song was written. He did this either before or after every song. And while that may sound as if it would be monotonous—after all, his tone is dulcet yet low and measured—Raabe injects a bone dry wit and some humorous anecdotes and jokes. His act, if it is an act, is one of understated humor. He understands his tone to be very Ben Stein and uses that to sneak in some funny bits.
But Raabe's interstitials weren't the only source of fun. The orchestra themselves got into the festivities – while flashing some impressive musical range—by occasionally joining Raabe in singing songs, combining to create saxophone, trombone and clarinet quartets, and even going as far as to provide some staging for songs. Particularly amusing was the orchestra's rendition of Frank Churchill's 1933 song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," sung primarily by Fox, Bährens and Ernst.
And it quickly became obvious from their selections that this group likes to have fun. Many songs were cheerful and had humorous stories or titles, related charmingly by Raabe. Such selections include (English titles) "Rosa, Charming Rosa", "I Fell in Love 'Cause She Looked So Cute, Last Summer in Her Bathing Suit" and "Lulu is Dancing too! Ahaha, Uhuhu." And American hits like "Dream a Little Dream" and "Night and Day" found a home in their repertoire. Yet, there were still sincere moments with songs like "You Can't Live Without Love." And along this musical journey they hit on a waltz, tangoes, and even an "Oriental foxtrot," which Raabe kindly qualified as not actually existing.
The primary singing duty falls to Raabe, and with good reason. Listening to him croon is like listening to an old phonograph. His voice is exactly what one might expect to hear when listening to an old record. Classically trained and infinitely versatile, Raabe's baritone voice is at home across a broad range not just on the scales but genres. From jazz to cabaret to ragtime to classical. His voice is timeless and yet, born to sing music from this era.
Adding to the spectacle was Dirk Lehmann's lighting design. Especially in a one-night-only tour format, a complex lighting plan wouldn't exactly be expected. But, Lehmann's design is a character all to itself, choreographed down to the second and using things like color and spacing to aid in telling the stories of the songs.
It's classic and yet it's timely. Past and present. Historic and yet universal. Whether it was on purpose or not, Raabe and the Palast Orchester have struck a resonating chord that no matter the time, there is always a place for great music.And the best music is always relevant.