Solo Shows and Collaborations:
All solo shows are ready to book as single 60-, 75- and 90-minute sets. Fees are negotiable and vary according to the program, number of musicians, and travel expenses. For information about booking my collaborative shows (Vienna to Weimar with KT Sullivan, The Home I Love: Cabaret form Berlin to Tel Aviv with Noa Levy, and various ensemble acts of the award-winning Kabarett Kollektif), please contact me.
It is Ms. Kohler’s exquisite taste in songs and her band’s ability to play them in any style that leaves you open-mouthed with admiration!
WHEN THINGS GO SOUTH:
Songs from the Frontier
WHEN THINGS GO SOUTH is my homage to Southland. I spent 17 years in the Southern USA (college in Tucson and through my 20s and 30s in Fort Worth and Austin). It was in the audiences of country, blues and folk-rock icons Patty Griffin, Malford Milligan, Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan that I learned a lot about the craft of show business. When I returned to New York to sing and promote roots cabaret, I set aside favorite songs by the Boswell Sisters, Haddie Hart, Van Morrison and Leadbelly. With this project I’m southbound, geographically and psychically. I choose these frontier songs for this moment in time, which is calling for great courage and introspection from us all. Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and Hildegard Knef are my masters of grit and I present them alongside some Wolf Biermann, Joni Mitchell and Rhiannon Giddens. To drive home my points, I mine the lyrics of the rock icons of my youth from Roger Waters and Led Zeppelin to Peter Gabriel and Annie Lennox. Wall-wise, what is there to say. I’ve crossed the Arizona and Texas borders into Mexico at least a dozen times. I’ve had to reckon with own cultural wounding as a post-war German-American immigrant, daughter and granddaughter. As a child, my paternal grandmother walked with me along the Berlin Wall. She loathed it so much that she became secretary to an organization called Berliner Gegen die Mauer (Berliners Against the Wall). “This is what human beings put up between each other” she would say. I was there days after Berliners tore that wall down in 1989. Sadly, my Omi did not live to see the day. I have much to say about walling up, inside and out, and all I can think to do is sing.
(With Nick Cave’s sardonic social critique “God Is in the House”…), Karen Kohler challenged the settled order without upsetting it.
Kohler is the physical embodiment of the charm, at once elegant and capricious, that imbues her repertoire. She is vocally and gesturally absolutely professional and unique. She stands in the tradition of the great goddesses of song and performance.
The “I’ll Come Back For You One Day” Songbook
I’m especially delighted to finally add TRUNK SHOW to my catalog of solo projects, which features music and poetry I’ve collected over the years. These are songs that crossed my radar while I was researching other projects, or that came to me on tour, that a fan suggested or that I found in the various places I’ve called home. I’d hear them and say: Oh, aren’t you a glorious song! Too bad you don’t fit into this project at all but I’ll come back for you one day, I promise. These songs are jewels and I’ve kept them in a safe and trusted place. At last these misfit songs have a home together. Like in LITTLE DEATH, I draw from all my musical influences – classical, jazz, blues, folk-rock and cabaret. Among the songwriters are Christina Aguilera, Jacques Brel, Leonard Cohen, Mack Gordon, Julia Henning, Michael Jackson, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jerome Kern, The Kin, W.A. Mozart, Sinead O’Connor, Nina Simone, Sting, Tom Waits, Jimmy Webb and other surprises.
Songs of Coming and Going
Backstage Bistro Awards for “Outstanding Theme Show” “Stage Direction” “Musical Direction” and “Arrangements”
Aggie Award for “Best Live Performance”
LITTLE DEATH debuted Off-Broadway at the Zipper Factory Theater in NYC in 2008. In this one-woman show, I explore the erotic synergies between sex and death. My musical suitors date as far back as the 17th century with Henry Purcell to the present with Tom Waits and include Jacques Brel, Leonard Cohen, Patrick Doyle, Astor Piazzola, Cole Porter, Franz Schubert, Jane Siberry, Kurt Weill and Wesley “Sox” Wilson. Comprised of the Sex Act and Death Act, the show features a five-piece band of piano, guitar, violin, bass and percussion. Singing in English, German, French, Latin and Portuguese, I crossbreed a decadent range of musical influences – everything from jazz, Delta blues, classical, rock-folk and cabaret. A little death, or la petite mort in French, refers to the post-orgasmic sensation of release, or ecstasy, that poets and eroticists have likened variously to a living death or window into the other world. My exploration of what could be called vigor mortis takes us in and out of pain and pleasure, obsession and foreplay, creation and destruction in an entrancing theatre and music dichotomy that is by turns post-coital and post-mortal. In my view, and in that of the composers and poets I coax out on stage, sex and death are two distinct acts, but their experience is intertwined. You can’t have one without the other.
A formidable, superbly accompanied two-part show, a total of some 26 songs, ranging from fado to classical to blues, performed with jaw-dropping versatility and grace. A staggering range of music…purest aural ecstasy… the best band I’ve heard this year!
The classically trained Kohler created her own version of the detached feminine archetype. With a cool stare, gloved gestures and slightly naughty allusions, she projected a tempestuous Berlin cabaret singer tamed by love…By the time she launched the wartime anthem “Lili Marlene,” the illusion of Dietrich was complete.
THE MOONS OF VENUS:
Romancing Marlene Dietrich
Marlene’s Berlin and Hollywood songs have been with me from the start. With this show, I evoke the Teutonic femme fatale with signature interpretations of songs from Marlene’s films, USO tour and later career as a cabaret entertainer. I impart the details of her life as seen through the eyes of those who knew her best – her directors, co-stars and lovers – the moons to her Venus. Originally created with German-American pianist and arranger, Uli Geissendoerfer, for the Dietrich centenary in 2001, THE MOONS OF VENUS has played in a number of American cities, and in London, Berlin and Munich. A live album was made in the East Village in 2005 with Jed Distler on piano. In 2006, I created a composite of my Dietrich and Weill tribute shows for my debut at Joe’s Pub in NYC and called it, THREE PENNIES & A TOUCH OF VENUS. This piece showcases the Berlin, Paris, New York and Hollywood songs of these German-American legends in 5 languages…Marlene who made sex deadlier, Weill who made death sexier.
JAM AND SPICE:
The Songs of Kurt Weill
My grandfather Ulrich, who brought me to the theater in Germany when I was eight and Kurt Weill had a birthday in common. While digging around in my family’s Berlin history, I came upon his music which was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It seized my imagination and played in my dreams. Thus has it been ever since. JAM AND SPICE is my ever-expanding Weill songbook. In the haunting “My Ship,” I found the title to my homage, a phrase that captures Weill’s wide range – sweet and smooth to sharp and piquant. His romantic sensitivity, his worldliness, his satirical detachment, and the breadth of his musical sophistication are all in clear evidence in this diverse concert. Few singers ever fully cross the spectrum of Weill’s oeuvre. In a world where scholars and musicians seem to be continually focused on two distinct Weills – the German and the American – my linguistic fluency and theatrical sensibility link all his worlds into one, whole, universal Weill. A studio album conducted by Robert René Galván was made in 1999 in Austin, TX to mark Weill’s centenary. In 2006, I created a composite of my Dietrich and Weill tribute shows for my debut at Joe’s Pub in NYC and called it, THREE PENNIES & A TOUCH OF VENUS. This piece showcases the Berlin, Paris, New York and Hollywood songs of these German-American legends in 5 languages…Marlene who made sex deadlier, Weill who made death sexier.
With her high forehead, magnified lips and dancing eyes, Kohler recalls the 1920s, 30s and 40s. She would seem destined to sing Weill. Her upper register cuts finely across Weill’s dissonance, yet she also possesses a plangent lower range employed to warm effect…When she really melts into his twilight-of-love songs or bares her teeth for the grittier material, she is the equal of any cabaret singer alive.
Kohler doesn’t just sing radiantly and strongly, she tells stories — sometimes cool, sometimes longingly, often teasingly, expressing the character of the songs exactly as she wants them to be. These are not mere covers, but new interpretations that lead one to forget the original. On Lili Marleen, her public held their cigarette lighters aloft and offered itself as choir.
European Cabaret & American Pop
DAS KABARETT is my longest running cabaret act, having first been performed in Austin in 1995! A smorgasbord of gems from the 1920s through 60s, it features my signature arrangements of German cabaret classic, French chansons and American standards by artists like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Friedrich Hollaender, Edith Piaf, the Boswell Sisters, Duke Ellington and Noel Coward. A live recording was made in 1999 with the show’s original co-creator and pianist, Larry Greenawalt. In 2010, I conceived a variation of this show for my debut at Feinstein’s in NYC and called it FOREIGN CURRENCY. I added songs by Henri Contet, Hanns Eisler, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel, Mischa Spoliansky, Werner-Richard Heymann and Nick Cave to the mix. I’ve toured extensively with this songbook over the years throughout the U.S., to Munich, Berlin and London, and far-away destinations like India and Australia.
THE HOME I LOVE:
Cabaret From Berlin To Tel Aviv
Originally produced by the German Consulate staged at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco, THE HOME I LOVE is a collaboration with Israeli vocalist Noa Levy. A celebration of the music of our two home cities united in history, tragedy and renewal, this project centers around the universal themes of friendship, freedom and homeland. Noa and I sing in English and Yiddish, and have each learned the other’s German and Hebrew to bring the full measure of authenticity to the repertoire. With musical direction by award-winning New York-based pianist Tracy Stark, we take our audience on a journey through the golden age of cabaret in 1930’s Berlin, the war and post-war years, all the way to 21st century Kleinkunst stylings of the stages of Tel Aviv. The program takes us back in time while illuminating how very relevant the material is at this precise moment and how important it is that we offer it together. If the San Francisco premiere was any indication of this show’s appeal and capacity to heal, THE HOME I LOVE will continue to attract all kinds of audiences – Jewish, German, international, young, elderly and in-between.
Swinging from fond sentimentality to tongue in cheek to heartbreak, Karen Kohler and Noa Levy convey how they feel about the cultural history they are expressly recreating onstage. Knowing their feelings, we become part of the performance. By the end, involving us in this way, Karen and Noa turn an audience into a community.
It’s a fascinating collection of material. The evening’s most astonishing surprise, a song about ‘Attila the Hun’ from 1922 which is as scurrilous as you can get and makes Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret or Chicago songs read like nursery rhymes. As civilized entertainment as you’d get anywhere. Don’t miss!
They capture the currents of a time in Germany where all was in furious chaos and anything seemed possible. Kohler, with a stunning voice, tremendous range, and commanding style in her tuxedo and top hat, seemed herself to be an embodiment of the times, evoking Marlene Dietrich. K.T. Sullivan’s operatic range was equally magnificent—taking us from Viennese waltzes that teased class boundaries and evoked old fairy tales, to brassy and sensual cabaret at its highest peak.
VIENNA TO WEIMAR
BroadwayWorld Award for “Best Revue”
MAC Award Nomination for “Major Duo/Group”
Originally conceived for the Neue Galerie in New York City, VIENNA TO WEIMAR has had a long beautiful life already. My long-time supporter and colleague, the American cabaret star KT Sullivan, is my “special girlfriend” on this journey from 1870s Vienna through 1930s Berlin. In a delicious blend of voices and feminine sensibilities, we duet on songs by Friedrich Hollaender, Spoliansky and Schiffer, Weill and Brecht, Rudolf Nelson and others that were originally sung in Berlin by Claire Waldoff, Marlene Dietrich, Margo Lion. Our songs feature remarkable English translations by Jeremy Lawrence. I don my vintage tux for VIENNA TO WEIMAR, bringing extra sizzle and heat to the themes of gay rights, women’s rights and freedom, social satire, as well as to the darkening political landscape of the day. I learned something I didn’t know about myself before channeling my masculine for this show: I like to lead when I dance.
For a lengthy and thoughtful review of our show, visit Katherine Cross’ blog, Cross With You. Vielen Dank, Katherine!