When the curtain speech finished with “All Aboard the S.S. Weimar” and the lights rose on an interesting set outlined in art of the era, I was excited to be transported to the Weimar Republic. This is a time period that gifted performer Mark Nadler is clearly passionate about and has chosen to write and perform about his new musical I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Unfortunately we’re never taken very far from our seats at the York Theatre Company, as the format of the show feels much more like a lecture Nadler would give on the subject at a university rather than a theatrical journey to the Weimar and beyond.
The show includes a thought-provoking selection of music, including work by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, Frederick Hollander, and Arno billing among others. Nadler is at his strongest skillfully playing the piano and singing with gusto, joined by Franca Vercelloni (accordion) and Jessica Tyler Wright (violin), as he evokes artists such as Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, and Gertrude Lawrence. These musical moments are the highlight of the piece and showcase Nadler’s musical talent, especially his passionate “Bilbao Song,” “The Lavender Song,” and his endearing “Schickelgruber.” The two musicians are as gifted as Nadler, but at times the way they are incorporated could use a bit more finesse.
Where the show suffers is in between the music. Nadler is attempting to cover too much ground, from his own family history, story of moving to New York, and cabarets that used to exist here in addition to the background and inspiration of the artists whose work he’s performing, Hitler’s lineage, and the plight of Jews and homosexuals as the Weimar era was destroyed. The weaving of story-telling, history lessons, and musical performance isn’t particulalry seamless, and since it’s told in direct address to the audience and accompanied by a non-stop and at times distracting LCD presentation of images, I couldn’t help but wish this was a professor whose class I’d love to enroll in. And in educational format, Nadler really hits the audience over the head by poitning out recurring themes found in all of this music, rather than giving us a chance to make connections and discoveries of our own.
I’m a Stranger Here Myself is an ambitious piece, and Nadler’s performance is filled with passion and heart. If he had formatted this piece differently, perhaps I would have joined him to “Come A-Wandering With Me” or thought to myself “I May Never Go Home.”
I’m a Stranger Here Myself
Through May 19, 2013
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue
Jason Mitchell is an event planner, author, and playwright who resides in New York City.