Ute Lemper is a multifaceted singer/actress closely associated with the Berlin cabaret style of songs and the music of Kurt Weill. Although she has appeared in a number of movies, she has generally focused on vocal concerts or on roles in musicals. Some of her admirers have asserted that the marketing of her recordings under the umbrella of classical or semi-classical music has hampered their sales, yet most have been commercial successes (and in some cases best sellers), especially those containing the music of Weill.
Exposed to music in her childhood through her opera-singer mother, she veered away from classical music and developed a fondness for American jazz and popular music. She first studied piano and dancing at age nine. She later studied voice and furthered her musical education in Berlin, Salzburg, and Cologne. She also took acting lessons in Vienna at the Max Reinhardt Seminary. At age 16, she joined the punk music group the Panama Drive Band and, true to her broad artistic tastes, soon began taking on roles in Chekhov and Fassbinder plays at the Staatstheater Stuttgart. Her first important stage effort was the 1983 Vienna production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, where she played the roles of Grizabella and Bombalurina on an alternate basis. In 1985, she landed the lead role in the Berlin production of the Peter Pan musical comedy. The following year turned out to be a pivotal period in her career: She played Sally Bowles in a touring production of Cabaret staged in Rome, Paris, Lyon, and Dusseldorf, and began to develop a strong interest in the music of Weill. That same year, she won the prestigious French Moliere Award as Best Actress in a Musical for her work in the Paris staging of Cabaret. In 1987, she appeared in a New York production based on the life and music of Weill. Her first major recording was released that same year on the German label Bayer, Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill. Other successful recordings soon followed, including several more Weill CDs, one in 1991 of The Three-Penny Opera, and further volumes of his songs in 1993. She also recorded a pop album, released in 1991, entitled Crimes of the Heart. While Lemper focused heavily on the music of Weill in the cabaret genre, she also sang and recorded songs by Hollaender, Nelson, and several others, which appeared on recordings in 1996 and 1997. Meanwhile, Lemper was making inroads into film, too: she appeared as Marie-Antoinette in Pierre Granier-Deferre's 1989 film L'Autrichienne and in Peter Greenaway's 1990 Prospero's Books. Michael Nyman, who had written the music for the Greenaway film, wrote his Six Celan Songs for Lemper in 1990, who performed them to critical acclaim. In 1992, Lemper left Germany and eventually settled in New York, where she now lives with her husband, comedian David Tabatsky, whom she married in 1994. They have two children, Max (born 1994) and Stella (born 1997). Lemper has received numerous awards, including Billboard's Crossover Artist of the Year for 1993-94. Her work also includes her portrayal of Velma Kelley in the 1997 London production of Chicago and the album Punishing Kiss, released in 2000, featuring songs by Weill, Philip Glass, Elvis Costello, and others. She also appeared with critical success at the 2000 Covent Garden Festival in a production of Weill's Die sieben Todsünden.