We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.


When it comes to reinvention, Ute Lemper makes Madonna seem like a cigar-store Indian. The 36-year-old singer-dancer-actress has done it all: performed in jazz and pop bands in her teen years, starred in musical comedies (Cats, Peter Pan, Cabaret, and, most recently, Chicago), appeared in movies (most memorably, naked and pregnant in the Robert Altman flop Ready to Wear), and established herself as a concert artist. (She’s also published a satirical memoir and painted large-scale expressionist canvases. Busy, busy!) In this country, she’s probably best known for her recordings, which have ranged from pop ballads (Crimes of the Heart), to interpretations of Kurt Weill and Weimar music, to tributes to Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf. In Lemper’s latest manifestation, she’s a leather-clad, butch-coiffed art-pop diva. Her just-released CD, Punishing Kiss, uses Weill’s “Tango Ballet” (a whorehouse duet with the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon) to smooth her transition to contemporary compositions by, among others, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Philip Glass. The album has received mixed notices, with fans applauding her versatility and skeptics questioning her calculated theatricality and emotional chilliness. Punishing Kiss works best with songs that capture a precise situation: Cave’s “Little Water Song,” the plaint of a drowned woman, and Waits’ “Purple Avenue,” a boozy monologue by a penniless urban outcast. Less successful tracks are weighted down by vague, angst-ridden lyrics and overbearing orchestration. Lemper’s latest incarnation will perform with a four-piece pop band at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 16, at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $30. (202) 994-6800. (Joel E. Siegel)