As if it weren’t enough that the venerable Paramount Theatre on Washington Street was open for the first time since 1976, the Celebrity Series of Boston brought in as the initial act to play the new 600-seat mainstage Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester. The blond, baby-faced, 47-year-old crooner from Westphalia has over the past quarter-century made a huge success out of re-creating the cabaret atmosphere of Weimar Republic Berlin, back in the days when the Paramount was just opening (1932). And the elegance of Raabe and his 12-member band — he in white tie and tails, they in black tie except for violinist Cecilia Crisafulli — accorded well with the newly renovated (to a tune of $90 million, courtesy of Emerson College) Paramount.
“The topics to be treated tonight will range from harmless ones to the great topic of interpersonal relationships. How to find someone. How to get to know someone. [Pause] And how to get rid of someone.” That was Raabe’s typically sly, affectless introduction to the evening, at the end of the opening “Music, Maestro, Please.” The 20 numbers that followed were about equally divided between American and German, plus one, the rhumba “Duerme,” in Spanish. The American tunes — “Sweet Sue,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” — provided most of the romance, though there was also the macabre wit of Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” (that she will not be able to lunch today, because she shot her faithless lover and is about to be lynched). The German numbers were more playful and wistful and cynical: the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht “Moon of Alabama,” “Mein Gorilla hat ’ne Villa im Zoo” (“My Gorilla Has a Villa in the Zoo”), “Wenn die Elisabeth nicht so schöne Beine hätt’ ” (“If Elisabeth Didn’t Have Such Beautiful Legs”) as a paso doble, Franz Lehár’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” (“You Are My Heart Alone”) as a tango. Halfway through, the lights came down and Raabe, accompanied only Ian Wekwerth on piano, got intimate and tender on “Ninon”: “Ninon, lach mir einmal zu/Kein andere Frau lacht so süß wie du” (“Ninon, laugh for me one more time/No other woman laughs as sweetly as you”). A couple of numbers later, he was joined by a quartet of bandmembers to sing “Wir sind von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt” (“Falling in Love Again”), the song Marlene Dietrich made famous in Der blaue Engel.
This edition of the Palast Orchestra started out as violin, guitar, bass, percussion, two trumpets, trombone, and four saxes — but the saxes all doubled on clarinet, Bernd Hugo Dieterich added sousaphone to his bass, Ulrich Hoffmeier played banjo and violin as well as guitar, and Jörn Ranke put down his trombone and produced a viola. Raabe’s deadpan belied the calibrated choreography (bandmembers jumping to their feet for solos, or swinging their instruments in unison) and chaos behind him; the latter climaxed with Vincent Riewe’s chimes falling apart at the end of “Rosa, reizende Rosa” (“Rosa, Wonderful Rosa”). Everybody got ample room to show off, as Raabe spent half of each number leaning against the piano and conferring with Wekwerth or discreetly contemplating (a lesser man would have ogled) the voluptuous Crisafulli.