Review by Tulis McCall
Mark Nadler is not instantly likeable, even though he wants to be. He is, however, persistent to the point where you realize that underneath all that schmaltz is a guy who has a story to tell you. Throw the man a lighted corner and a megaphone and he is off to the races. No matter if you want to go along. If you lag behind you get the feeling that Nadler will pick you up and carry you.
This is a show all about the Weimar republic, so most of the songs are unrecognizable. This is a pretty enormous obstacle, because, whether in German or in English, these tunes do not tickle our ears. No matter. They tickle Nadler’s, and that is all he cares about. He tells the story of the Weimar Republic as though it were Greenwich Village in the 1970’s and 1980’s before AIDS. As a matter of fact he is not bashful about that connection. He even has a film of him performing at the Five Oaks, complete with his 1980’s hair.
Do you remember the Five Oaks? He asks. Too bad he didn’t wait for a response because I do. It was a downstairs club on Grove Street where my friend Peggy worked.
Do you remember Jeremy? Yes I do, and I know where he lives today. Well one night Jeremy was on the door and a woman marched past the very long line of men waiting to get in and asked to be seated because she was a real Princess. Jeremy turned her around and pointed at the long line and said, “Well every one of those men there is a Queen. So you can take yourself up the stairs to the back of the line.”
I digress, but then so does Nadler. The point is that there was a sexual revolution going on in both places. One was decimated by war, the other by disease.
He pays great homage to composers and lyricists who either escaped Germany or who collaborated with the refugees: Kurt Weill, Frederick Hollander, Howard Deitz and Arthur Schwartz, Bertolt Brecht, and the less familiar Kurt Schwabach and Mischa Spoliansky. He tells stories as if he knew them all, with enthusiasm and gusto.
This is not a show so much as it is a small graduate seminar. Much like Maude Maggart, this is a performer who wants you to get the history that surrounded the music. In 1871, he tells us, Germany passed a law making homosexuality illegal. It was repealed in 1994. (He doesn’t mention that U.S. laws against sodomy were on the books from the late 1700’s until 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.) As well, he makes a point of the little known fact that when the concentration camps were liberated; the homosexuals had to finish out their sentences.
So this is a mixed bag of an evening with the wonderful addition of Franca Vercelloni on Accordion and Jessica Tyler Wright on Violin with some smashing projections by Justin West. Even the direction of David Schweizer does not tie this material together in a neat package. Nadler swans from one song to another like a proud peacock, and brings you to the surprising and true conclusion of the evening with a schmeer of melodrama that is beyond “over the top”. If there were still a Borscht Belt, he would be its king. As it is, Nadler is thrilled to settle for the most brightly lit corner of any room and sing out.
This work is his passion. He would do it for free if he had to. Good for him.
"It’s agreeable enough."
Neil Genzlinger for New York Times
"Entertaining and illuminating."
Frank Schedk for New York Post
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