If there ever was a must-see theater piece from “out of town” that arrived in Philadelphia, then it’s definitely “I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Musik from the Weimar and Beyond,” a one-man show, written and performed by the brilliant showman Mark Nadler, now through April 12, at the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, in association with Karen Lotman Productions.
Nadler, celebrated for his highly successful off-Broadway show performed to sold-out audiences, is more than a cabaret performer, but also a singer, pianist, actor, historian, and genealogist, as he engages the audience through the world of German cabarets, the songs, the composers, the performers, and the clubs that flourished between the first and second World Wars. That period that allowed unprecedented freedoms of all kinds from behavior to sexuality (gays, in particular, enjoyed a liberating lifestyle) was known as the Weimar Republic, before Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and the witch hunt of gays and Jews.
Nadler is to the Weimar Republic as Michael Feinstein is to the American Songbook. Like Feinstein, Nadler is totally absorbed and dedicated to his chosen period of history with complete passion and appreciation of the songs and stories, from parody to comedy to defiance. The composers—Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Friedrich Hollaender, among others—wrote songs that “expressed declarations of identity and resistance in the face of terror for the Jewish and gay people who created them.”
“Through the songs of these cabarets and the stories of those who wrote and sang them, we follow the profound journeys of Hitler’s ‘degenerates’—the ultimate outsiders,” something that Nadler instructs and reminds the audience with intelligence and grace.
As a musical historian, Nadler enchants us into appreciating the songs that he performs “that helped define Broadway in its golden age, and tells the story of how they are inextricably linked to a magical—and sinister—several years in Berlin where underground German cabarets flourished between the two World Wars.” He brings such context to the content that we gain a new understanding of the status, inspiration and influence that the Weimar “greats” had on such diverse French and American songwriters such as Charles Aznavour, Ira Gershwin, Arthur Schwartz, and Howard Dietz.
The show truly has “epic qualities” as well as a “poignantly personal journey” that ends Nadler’s brilliant performance. The audience is profoundly moved and delighted by the surprise ending to what can only be described as “unexpected.” To reveal the secret would to ruin Nadler’s finale. You only need to attend a performance—and there you’ll share in The Helpmann Award-winning show.
The distinguished and critically-acclaimed David Schweizer as director (with a long and impressive stage and opera career) has collaborated closely, personally, with Nadler bringing to the show elements of the production that compliment and enhance both the materials and the stage performance. Nadler is joined with musical accompaniment by Vena Johnson and Rosie Langabeer.
Quoting from The Huffington Post, they said it best: “A must-see show! An alternately brooding and ebullient recreation of what it was like to be in a Berlin cabaret during the 1920s.”