"Captivating Cabaret about Zarah Leander. It's funny, intelligent, dramatic and super-professional."
"We've seen many musical portraits of Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Jacques Brel and Zarah Leander, through the years. No one reaches the top quality that Olivia Stevens delivers.
13 years after the breakthrough as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in Malmö, she's back in the metropolis of Skåne and she's come a long way! When she through words and songs tells the story of the Nazi idol, you can hear a pin drop in the theatre. It's a captivating, well balanced and well written literary cabaret that Olivia presents from the Victoria-theatre stage.
We saw the sneak preview last night and conclude that Stevens takes no direct stand for or against Sarah Leander's foible for money as well as her stupid political actions. There's no need. It's enough telling the story as it happened for one to feel a strong taste and loathing. What prize did Zarah pay for her dance with the devil, Stevens suddenly asks and sings - freely translated - as Die Leander. 'It may have been a Sin - but it was wonderful'. Well well.
"It's funny. Intelligent, dramatic and super-professional."
Stevens shows an impressively wide range both vocally and through her stage presence with a blinding charisma. It's funny. Intelligent, dramatic and super-professional. So, if you want to see a Star, the little Vctoria – theatre in the heart of Malmö, is the place to go. You'll get a real dose of Berliner–air from a gal who's completely wunderbar from top to toe."
"Impressive at Carnegie Hall"
"The most daring expedition of the evening was Olivia Stevens' performance of songs made known by Swedish singer Zara Leander, who during the Nazi regime in Germany snuggled up to the Nazi bigwigs, with her songs broadcast to Allied troops. As a woman of Jewish origins, Stevens nevertheless has the nerve to explore and imitate the one-time star, and with her sultry voice, she puts on an impressive show."
"Stevens is a find"
"Zarah Leander...An international film and recording artist...was the biggest star in Germany during the Third Reich and a controversial favorite of Hitler and Goebbels. It is a tribute to the acting and singing power of Olivia Stevens, who tells Leander's story in her new cabaret show, Pleasure & Peril, that Leander comes alive, portrayed with understanding and intelligence, completely in character, yet with Stevens' own highly honed talents as an entertainer. Stevens - an international performer in her own right, in classical drama, musical theater and television - is a find, adding her European sensibility, charm, and rich, supple voice to the city's cabaret stages. She is also wise enough to enlist several of cabaret's finest pro's behind her: David Pearl on piano, capturing the period's musical style; Eric Michael Gillett as director; and, aiding her on the script, Gillett and James Beaman."
"A tantalizing show"
"Stevens captures that smoky voice as she taubts the audience on Do You Want to See a Star?"
"Stevens casts a darkly humorous eye over the actress's adventures."
"The show "...raises all sorts of intriguing questions. to what extent can an entertainer live in a political life? When does ambition trump morality?"
"Leander's performance captivates"
"It takes more than guts for a performer of Jewish origin – and whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors – to reenact in musical and dramatic fashion the story of Sweden's movie star, Zarah Leander, Hitler's favorite singer.
It actually takes a tremendous acting and singing talent and versatility. Olivia Stevens is over and above an actress and chanteuse, whose energy and verve, deep-throated voice and overwhelming talent and beauty - can bring the house down. And that's exactly what she did up in Le Dome, The Nightclub Under the Stars."
"Olivia Stevens, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden, stands alone in her effort to show the world that the unthinkable can be accomplished. She has effectively done so in the presentation of 'Pleasure and Peril – The Story of Zarah Leander', March 23 at The Manor in West Orange.
She is over and above an actress and chanteuse, whose energy and verve, deep-throated voice and overwhelming talent and beauty - a combination of Elizabeth Taylor, from the nose up, and Annette Benning from the nose down - can bring the house down. And that's exactly what she did, with the accompaniment of her pianist David Pearl, up in Le Dome, The Nightclub Under the Stars...with a grateful nod to the delights of Mitchell Altholtz executive chef...we climbed the winding staircase to experience the star of The Manor's cabaret – the inimitable Stevens of stage, television and movies.
This past year, Stevens has been performing her one-woman show, 'Pleasure and Peril', which features the life and songs of Leander, the 'controversial darling of stage and screen in Nazi Germany.' and premiered as part of the Kabarett Fete, which has been awarded a 2008 Back Stage Bistro award for Special Event.
The Bistro Awards will be held April 7 at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. She also has traveled to perform the French version at the Avignon Theatre Festival and in Sweden at The Krapperup Castle and as part of the Stockholm Culture Festival. Last November, Stevens performed the show at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Here at the Manor, she intrigued the audience by beginning her unusual act, with her back to the audience, microphone in hand and adorned in a striking black gown, which she utilized to accentuate the wild events in the life of the Nazis' darling. Then in a deep, sultry, provocative voice and body movement, turned to The Manor audience and she sang 'So, You Want to Be a Star?' in Swedish and English. Her other numbers, dramatically offered in German, Swedish, French and English, which told of the pleasures and grief, often hidden unhappiness, of Leander, stunned the audience into acceptance and submission.
Numbers that ran the gamut of Leander's turbulent life, such as 'It all Began with a Glass of Champagne', 'I Know a Miracle will Happen', 'Wonderland at Night', and 'Never Cry for Love', were compounded in a frenzy of emotions that Stevens utilized to reach her astounded audience. Highlighting the high tensions of the evening were Stevens sensual 'Wunderbar' and 'It isn't the End of the World'. She described Leander's tyranny in a wicked version of 'The Sin was Wonderful', and ending and encore of 'Each time I Hear a Churchbell Ring.'
Stevens, as no other cabaret performer at The Manor could accomplish, entertained and drained the audience, all at the same time.
When she regains her composure, and her ultimate strength in the future, the patrons of The Manor would appreciate another encore performance."
"A Grandiose interpretation"
"A grandiose performance that conveys the denial and pain of immorality. She sings: 'Do you want to see a Star, look at me!' and Zarah Leander is reborn in the summer night."
"Olivia Stevens powerful interpretation of Zarah Leanders' songs, and stories of Zarahs' dealings with the Nazis, under the portraits of Barons from the enlightenment, creates a remarkable backdrop to the Nobel prize winners' talks about a European identity.
Just like Zarah Leander docilely allowed herself to be a part of Goebbels' theories of manipulation and almost, literally, became blind by the spotlights of the UFA - filmindustry (hence the sunglasses), Sweden has lived highly from welfare privileges and exclusion fro a long time - a 'blind spot' concerning harsh European realities.
When I listen to Im Wunderland bei Nacht (Wonderland by Night) in a real castle of education - in the anti-intellectual and smart Sweden - I realize that the dark voice of Leander, through Olivia Steven's grandiose interpretation, conveys the displacement and pain of immorality.
But unfortunately, Sweden doesn't even have Zarah Leander's cold, proud betrayal left, only the Divas' spoiled foibles.
The lack of interest in European questions and problems, the concentration on the spiral of prosperity of blind positions of privilege and the American way of life – all contribute to placing us outside of the law and humanity that, Fuentes, Soyinka och Kertész refer to. Instead, Sweden, for its own gain, looks away from the immortal princliples of 1789, that state that everyone is equal before the law.
In her second UFA - movie, Zarah melodramatically pines away in an unhappy marriage under the sizzling sun in Puerto Rico. Her liberator appears as a Swedish doctor who sympolizes the arian 'insight' that Nordic people prefer one another.
Its as if the Nobel Prize winners in Berlin and the Singer in Brunnby, paraphrase one of Zarah's most poignant lines: The Summer rain is little, tiny cold teardrops that the angels cry for us.
"The best New York debut I've seen in a long time"
Adored by some, despised by others, Swedish-born musical star Zarah Leander has remained a controversial figure for over six decades. In her wholly admirable show, Olivia Stevens gives ample evidence of the talent that drew so many to Leander, while at the same time, and to Stevens's credit, she doesn't gloss over the darker aspects of Leander's life and career. What emerges is a person who may not always have been admirable or likable, but who never fails to hold our interest."
"Olivia Stevens, Jewish, born in Sweden, and living in New York, brilliantly solved the conundrum of playing Nazi diva Zarah Leander, with that anti-Marlene Dietrich diva's trademark deep voice and sunglasses, proclaiming, 'I'd rather be number one in Berlin than number 10 in Hollywood!'"
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