by Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
To hear Mark Nadler tell it in his cabaret act, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, the only point of the Weimar Republic was to provide gay men with a decadent Eden. But unlike the sexy, funny, edgy Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret, also about the Weimar Republic, this show at the Prince Music Theatre is cloying. Also boring. Also melodramatic. Also strident.
Nadler, a New York-based cabaret entertainer, tells us he is both gay and Jewish, and returns again and again to the theme of Nazi persecution of both Jews and homosexuals — complete with photos projected on the upstage wall (as though anyone in the audience might not have seen them before or heard of Dachau). The illustrations of louche, gay life, also projected, look like a parody. He accosts a man in the audience, evicting his wife from her chair and sitting on his lap.
He sings songs, some in German, some in French, some in English to evoke that era, those 14 years between the end of World War I and Hitler’s election as chancellor in 1933. Nadler gives us tedious and elementary history lessons, listing all the Jewish luminaries who escaped Germany and became major figures in world culture (also complete with photos): Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Billy Wilder, Wassily Kandinsky, Sigmund Freud, George Grosz, Arnold Schoenberg, Bruno Walter.
The musical armature of the show comprises songs by Kurt Weill, who wrote the title song (with lyrics, surprisingly by Ogden Nash) and another that is endlessly reprised, “J’Attends un Navire,” about waiting for a ship. Also overworked is the lyric, “I don't know who I belong to/ I believe I belong to myself, all alone!” which he applies to a variety of overwrought situations he describes.
Cabaret as an entertainment category is odd; it assumes a room, usually a chic supper club, where people eat and drink and the performer creates an intimacy with the audience, providing patter between songs. Nadler has to work against the room here, since the Prince is a conventional theatre and he's on a conventional stage, playing a grand piano and accompanied by Rosie Langabeer on accordion and Vena Johnson on violin.
There is no food or drink. And try though he mightily does, Nadler has neither a fine voice nor a quirky style, and is much too fond of showing off his fluency in German.
At the Prince Music Theatre, 1412 Chestnut St. Through April 12, 2014. Tickets $39.50-55.Information:(215) 972-1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org