Cabaret star Mark Nadler is one of the greatest showmen of our time, capable of leaping from floor to piano bench, tap-dancing madly, singing and keeping steady eye contact with the audience, all this while playing a complex passage on the piano without even glancing at the keys. However, in his latest at 54 Below, I’m A Stranger Here Myself, he takes a somewhat more low-key approach – the abundant theatrics and virtuosity are still there, but applied in a different way.
For this show, Nadler performs songs by German and French songwriters who were active between 1919 and 1933, the years of Germany’s Wiemar Republic (though not all the songs are from that period). Nadler examines these composers’ lives as well as those of ordinary German citizens caught up in that politically and emotionally charged period, leading his audience into some surprising corners.
There’s usually at least a gay subtext to Mark’s shows, but gayness is all out in the open on this one, where he spends much time reflecting on the place of gays and Jews in the socially progressive Wiemar era. As open an era as it was, though, homosexuality was still illegal, and Nadler highlights the bravery of lyricist Kurt Schwabach and composer Mischa Spoliansky who wrote the totally astonishing “Lavender Song (Das Lila Lied)” – as defiant an anthem for gay rights as I’ve ever heard – in 1920.
I’m always referring to the titles of Mark’s shows and talking about them as theatrical pieces. That’s because, more than any other cabaret artist I’m aware of, Nadler puts his shows together with passionate intelligence and careful structuring – to truly stunning results. His shows are truly theatre pieces and truly cabaret, all at once. There are always many layers in a Mark Nadler show, ranging from the obvious, to the unspoken subtext, which gives an “oomph” far, far beyond your typical cabaret show. This one has an even more profound emotional pull, and is truly not to be missed.
For tickets, click here.
For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.com.