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A CurtainUp Review
I'm A Stranger Here Myself: Musik from the Wiemar and Beyond
We are obliged to respect Nadler's request especially after we have been shown in an early part of the show the end credits of the film Witness for the Prosecution, during which is projected "The management of this theater urges you: do not divulge to anyone the secret of the ending."
The other aspects of I'm A Stranger Here Myself which evolved from a shorter, less visually enhanced version that Nadler performed over four Sunday evenings about a year ago at 54 Below, are not likely to remain a secret among those who will undoubtedly talk enthusiastically about its return. This longer show, in which an impassioned Nadler brings his mostly compelling, if sometimes over-heated interpretations of songs associated with such revered and cherished composers and entertainers of the era as Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Friedrich Hollaender, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf among others, is earnestly entertaining, enlightening and rewarding.
Nattily dressed in a grey pin-stripped suit with a silk vest and a yellow rose in his lapel, Nadler mostly performs on a slightly raised platform dominated by a baby grand piano. The evocative Art Moderne setting designed by James Morgan also includes a few chairs, some book cases, a couple of music stands, and three covered (whimsical?) port holes that suggest an intimate music salon rather than a cabaret. Nadler gets expert instrumental support from Franca Vercelloni on the accordion and Jessica Tyler Wright on the violin, whose presence is both wryly and charmingly integrated into David Schweizer's smoothly defined staging and direction.
Nadler makes his entrance singing from the back of the theater, making a connection with the audience that he continues throughout the show. For this he combines two Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz songs "I May Never Go Home Anymore/Come A-Wandering" that segue into, but do not end with the Weimar era. Perhaps first and foremost is the connection Nadler evidently feels with those who, during that brief fourteen years between the time the Kaiser abdicated after World War I and the time Hitler took power, were free, as outsiders, to express themselves.
Nadler's French and German is impeccable and is emphasized in the contexr of rhis multi-lingual show. He considers the anguish that Weill must have felt leaving Lenya behind in Germany as he found refuge in Paris in the classic "Je Ne T'aime Pas" (Music by Weill and French lyrics by Maurice Magre). He also captures the essence of his inveterate outsider theme with the title song composed by Weill (with lyrics by Ogden Nash for the Broadway musical One Touch of Venus).
The observations and tidbits about of many of the European expatriates of the era who escaped are equally memorable. These stories are enhanced by some of the most artfully integrated projection designs I have seen in a while. Many give us pertinent close-ups of the who's who of the time as they socialized, frolicked and exhibited their sexual freedom until Hitler put a stop to it, particularly in cabarets .
Sharing his feelings as an outsider from his childhood days in Iowa until he found a niche as a nightclub performer in New York in the long-ago era when nightclubs were evolving into cabarets, Nadler entwines snippets of his own biography with observations based on his study of Germany after seeing Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution. Dietrich became "the poster child of the Weimar," and gives affectionate homage to her with a few bars of "Falling in Love Again" by Hollaender, who would write many of Dietrich's future hits in Hollywood — the place where so many European Jews found a safe haven and a new life.
Nagler brings his distinct personality to the fore as he brings new life to such old songs as Weill's "The Bilboa Song," and "Ein Schiff Das Wird Kommen/My Ship." He also gets a laugh with a corny ditty "Schickelgruber," written by Weill and Dietz in the 1940s. But it is the lyrics of Hollaender's 1921 cabaret song "Oh How We Wish That We Were Kids Again" (see quoted stanza above) that reflect the irony of the sentiments that was permissible for a very short time. For a much shorter time, less than two hours, Nadler shares with us his pride even as he shares with us his passion for that brief time when Germany had its first taste of democracy.
Be sure not to miss is a fine representative exhibit of the Weimar-era art on display in the lobby.