Cabaret Review: MAX RAABE & PALAST ORCHESTER (“Dream a Little Dream” Tour at Symphony Hall, Boston & Carnegie Hall NY)

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by Lynne Weiss on March 19, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Music,Theater-Boston,Theater-New York,Tours


Max Raabe & Palast Orchester brought its “Dream a Little Dream” tour to Boston last night, transporting the Symphony Hall audience to an era of Big Band swing and “hot jazz” in the Berlin and beyond of the 1920s and 1930s. (The show hits Carnegie Hall on March 21.) Bandleader Raabe, who provided nearly all the vocals in a nipped-waist tux and sleekly styled hair, might have stepped off the cover of a 1920s New Yorker magazine. His big band of mostly men, also tuxedo-clad, provided a wide range of brass, as well as percussion and strings, all of it delivered with verve and panache. With the exception of the elegantly gowned Cecilia Crisfulli, who provided vivacious and essential violin throughout the show, and pianist Ian Wekworth, who flirted with and teased the audience as he delivered a terrific piano performance, most of the band members handled more than one instrument and did so masterfully.

The evening offered a nice mix of English and German lyrics. Songs in English included selections from the American Songbook by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, and Irving Berlin, the standards “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” with two famous selections from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht — “Mack the Knife” and “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar).”

Raabe introduced each of the German songs by citing the names of the composers and lyricists (many of whom had been Jewish). He provided a translation of the titles, “I Have a Sweet Tooth for Youth,” “You Are My Greta Garbo (But You Aren’t As Rich),” or precis of the lyrics from a German novelty number, “Last summer my heart was under great duress/when I saw Rosa in her swimming dress,” providing insight into the sly and yet innocent humor of a bygone era.

Max Raabe and Palast Orchester by Gregor Hohenberg

Some of the most thrilling moments occurred when the four saxophonists (two alto, one tenor, one baritone) stepped to the front of the stage to take charge of the melody. Nearly all the musicians were given a chance at a solo, and all of them provided proof of their mastery. All was delivered with an amused irony on the part of Raabe, who does not like to “perform” on stage when not singing — thus during the purely instrumental portions of the show, lighting designer Dirk M. Lehmann made Raabe virtually disappear into the shadows while using an impressive array of lighting techniques to highlight the other performers.

Long fascinated by Weimar-era musicians such as the Comedian Harmonists, Raabe (born Matthias Otto), began the Palast Orchester in 1986, while at university. Since then, they have played to sold-out arenas in Berlin as well as in other German-speaking cities and in the United States. Their 2010 tour of Israel was the subject of a documentary film. Raabe wrote “Ein Tag wie Gold” for the Netflix series Babylon Berlin, and he and the band appear in the series, set in 1920s.

Tall, lean Raabe, in his Rudy Vallee-like voice, performs standing stock-still at the mike, his face expressionless. You have to look closely for those rare occasions when an eyebrow arches ever so slightly or his eyes pan slowly from side to side. Confident in their appeal, the more rambunctious orchestra saved the title song of their tour — the 1931 hit “Dream a Little Dream of Me” — for their second encore. There was no danger that the audience wouldn’t get a chance to hear it, and it was hard to tell whether it was the performers or their audience who enjoyed it more.

Max Raabe & Palast Orchester
international tour
presented by Celebrity Series of Boston
reviewed February 19, 2024 at Sanders Theater in Cambridge MA
for more info, visit Palast Orchester

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