Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester



One of Stephen Sondheim’s best songs in “Gypsy” is “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” Max Raabe, the founder of Berlin’s Palast Orchester got a gimmick in 1985: he formed a band to perform 1920s and 1930s songs in true period-style arrangements, presented in the full flower of Art Deco style. It worked and has kept working ever since to resounding success all over the world. But Mr. Raabe took the gimmick up several significant notches with the indelible persona he created as the band’s front man and lead singer.

Dressed in perfectly-fitted white tie and tails, complete with a white satin kerchief sprouting out of his breast pocket like a wild gardenia, he performs all his solos standing at a single microphone downstage center, lit by a pin spot. As he sings, his body is turned ever so slightly so that he appears to be looking over his shoulder at the audience haughtily. His arms, hanging loosely at his side, never move, the sleeves never wrinkle, and his face shows zero expression. But his voice, singing in a falsetto pitch — the standard of that bygone era — expresses the emotions in those quaint lyrics symphonically.

When he finishes a verse, he steps backward out of the spotlight and into the crook of a grand piano. There he strikes a debonair pose, leaning on one elbow, crossing his ankles, and listens as the band belts out the choruses of those classic melodies in soaring arrangements.

When Mr. Raabe starts to sing again, he steps forward into the spotlight and assumes the same haughty pose. He repeats this routine over and over for dozens of numbers over two exhilarating acts. The effect is hypnotic. So mesmerized was I by his performance, I went home and watched a dozen more clips of Mr. Raabe and the Palast Orchester on YouTube.

Jerry Weissman








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