To Be Young, German and — Germane

Willkommen to the Weimar Republic, where life is in an aberrant abeyance. Change for a '20s? Caught between world wars with its marks down, Germany struggles to be germane once more.

And if the song in its heart is a sad one, is that precursor to punishing times ahead?

The cabaret doors are open even if the minds are closed.

But here don't expect the whiteface of a walking, swaggering swastika of an emcee; instead, audiences are confronted with a beautiful woman of cream-colored complexion who will never be mistaken for the repressiveness of a cabaret singer-cum-concentration camp commandant.

Micaela Leon is a lioness prowling the front line; at 26, she is the vibrant voice of a German generation hoping the next sound you hear will be of understanding and forgiveness.

And what a voice: She brings its sensuous serious snap of a wake-up call to New York's Don't Tell Mama — ironically Sally Bowles' emboldened albeit snide plea of a song in "Cabaret" — on weekends, where Leon's "Tigers, Muses & Jasmine" is redolent of the roaring '20s of Weimar Germany, when German chanteuses chased ghosts of the past and anticipated those gaining on the future.

The German-born entertainer with a classically-rooted training, eyes iconoclasts of the era, giving voice to songs sung by such notable stalwarts as Marlene Dietrich, Anita Berber, Rosa Luxemburg and Blandine Ebinger — women all who wailed for justice even as the walls moved in on them.

"I aspire to their qualities," announces Leon, citing their "fearlessness, motivation — their need to go on and do what they love despite social restrictions."

Their voices were their lights "in what was a very dark time."

Indeed, Leon, whose London-training abetted a staggered time spent studying in Stuttgart and elsewhere in Germany, is in tune with times past that she never experienced herself. Her act at Don't Tell Mama tellingly rails against anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution that persisted during the times of the Weimar Republic when hints of a Holocaust to come trailed wisps of talks of World War II.

"My generation needs to and wants to deal with it," she says, adding as a way of explanation that part of the reason she is doing what she does on stage is "my German guilt."

But guilt can be gold, helping gauge a person's mettle. "When I moved to London to study, I met Orthodox Jews for the first time. In Germany, rarely would people tell you if they were Jewish," understandably "influenced, of course, by what had happened" during the war.

Leon gleaned a better understanding, a keener insight into a people's past which had been hijacked by Hitler and nearly stomped out by his goose-stepping henchmen.

"We went to synagogue in London, traveled to Dachau … in London for the first time I saw the faces that I only knew about from films."

All of which, she says, including living in a Jewish section of the city, "left a deep impression on me."

That deep richness resonates on stage, as her need "to understand how such a thing could happen" to Jews flavors the familiar half and whole notes she sings and helps make her feel whole herself. "I love my country," she says, but its heinous history doesn't obfuscate her need to know clarity now.

In a way, Leon is on stage channeling women who were the teutonic predecessors of modern-day performers "unplugged," pulling out all the stops in questioning what was around them even as they quested for a better society.

"Their music is so filled with political elements, beauty, so sentimental — and that is not meant in a bad way," says Leon, wary that some people connote sentimental music as notes gone sour.

Leon doesn't not trade in the treacly tracks of tears; hers is a vibrant voice that sings of victory.

If there is an avatar of these vivacious women who sang the songs of Kurt Weill and a wellspring of others, it "may be Madonna … in a way. Dietrich, after all, was a woman who always was reinventing herself."

And if there's one woman who could take this one-woman show beyond its current stage, it's Leon, a singer/dancer/actress who concedes she wouldn't mind taking the next step to Broadway.

Which may explain why, when confronted with her show's title, which part Leon feels most aligned with: tigers, muses, jasmine.

"Tigers!" she parries with a pride and pounce in her voice. 



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