Mark Nadler is about to get really naked onstage -– metaphorically at least.
In the midst of rehearsals for his forthcoming debut at New York City nightspot 54 Below, the award-winning cabaret performer and comedic pianist notes, “This show really forces me to lay the things about me that are the scariest –- the fact that I am Jewish, the fact that I am gay and the fact that I live in a world where being either of those things doesn’t feel very comfortable often –- before the audience.”
Given that description, it’s interesting to note that the song-and-dance man’s latest act, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” will turn the clock back nearly a century, with an emphasis on music by Weimar Republic-era German and French songwriters. Yet Nadler insists the act couldn’t sound or feel more contemporary.
“Without getting too political, it’s pretty stirring to examine the freedom of the Weimar era, and the politics that were going on in 1920s Germany,” he says. “You can’t help but think about the times we’re living in now when you hear those songs.” As to why he felt compelled to base his show on Weimar era material, he adds, “Growing up as a gay Jew in Iowa, my theory always was, ‘If you can’t hide it, decorate it.’ These Weimar artists were all outsiders, and being an outsider was very important to the work they did, and I can really relate to that.”
Among the many highlights of Nadler’s set is “The Lavender Song,” a German cabaret staple by Kurt Schwabach and Mischa Spoliansky that is often regarded as the earliest-known “gay anthem,” though some suspect it may have been originally penned as a comic number.
“Every time I sing it, I feel that little butterfly in my stomach that every gay man feels when he walks down a street that isn’t [gay-friendly],” Nadler says of the tune. With lyrics like “If we resist, prison awaits so our love dares not speak its name/The crime is when love must hide,” the song is, according to Nadler, “an anthem that takes courage to sing in 2012, even though it was written in 1920.”
Still, 54 Below audiences needn’t expect too much gloom and doom from “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” which also includes songs by “The Threepenny Opera” composer Kurt Weill. Having once shared a Broadway stage with Dame Edna and co-hosted a tongue-in-cheek “Bark Mitzvah” for his dog, the man some have called a "contemporary vaudevillian" is best known for his comedic chops – and he promises that “Stranger” will feature plenty of that world-renowned irreverence.
“I pride myself in being able to make people laugh and make them cry, and luckily, this show is pretty funny most of the time,” says Nadler, who will also headline Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall for the annual “Art Start” benefit with Tovah Feldshuh, Eden Espinosa and others on Oct. 14. “Performing a cabaret act is a conversation, it’s not a lecture. The audience absolutely determines every single performance just like any conversation.”
Mark Nadler's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" plays New York's 54 Below on Oct. 7, 21, 28 and Nov. 4 and 11. For more information, click here.
View some of Nadler's performances below: