Interview: Mark Nadler Curates New Cabaret Space

The man Stephen Holden of the New York Times has dubbed “Mr. Entertainment,” Mark Nadler is curating a new cabaret space, the Beach Café, on Second Avenue and East 70th Street. When asked to describe Mark’s unique cabaret personality, I always return to an image of him performing that’s burned in my memory. At one point during American Rhapsody a long-running Gershwin tribute he did with KT Sullivan, Nadler, in white tie and tails, leapt from floor to piano bench, tap-dancing madly, singing and keeping steady eye contact with the audience – all this while playing a complex passage on the piano without even glancing at the keys. The man sweats talent from every pore.

Many of the shows in the first few months at the Beach Café focus on the music of Cole Porter. To find out a little more about this new cabaret – and its ongoing tribute to one of the greatest gay composers and lyricists of the last century – I got in touch with Nadler, fresh off playing the Queen Mary II while it meandered through the fjords of Norway.

So what is the Beach Café? What kind of ambiance does it have? What’s on the menu?

The Beach Café is an Upper East Side watering hole with up-scale pub food (burgers, meatloaf, chicken parm, oysters, fish and chips, trout almandine, etc.). It’s been there for 49 years; a real neighborhood staple. It would feel like a pub, except that there are big windows everywhere, so it has a very pleasant, homey ambiance. For the cabaret, white tablecloths will replace their usual checkered gingham and lovely little lamps will be on each table. The best part — and our new innovation — is that at every table there will be a button which silently, wirelessly, calls your waiter when you want another drink or whatever. This way, waiters won’t have to make the rounds during the show to ask “can I get you another?” Because the place is small — it only seats 50 plus 8 at the bar — it’s imperative that the servers not distract from the performances and we think this will help a lot.

How did it come to be a cabaret space?

Dave Goodside who owns and runs the place contacted KT Sullivan at the Mabel Mercer Foundation, because he wanted to have music at his place to separate his place from other restaurants in the neighborhood. His idea was to have a piano bar type program, so KT asked me to met with him. (When she hears the word ‘piano’ she thinks of me…). I made it clear at our first meeting that I don’t do piano bars any more, but if he wanted to consider making it a show room, I would be happy to do a show there and when I’m not available (which is often), get other great performers to play the room.

So, you’re curating the cabaret, right? What’s your approach to that like?

Very simple: I only book acts that I would want to see. It’s all filtered through my taste level. I’ve chosen as many Algonquin artists as possible for the first season (August and September), because I want it to be clear that the level is going to be extremely high. The other thing that’s important to me is that it never be unaffordable. What I’ve come up with is a mathematical formula that allows the artists to be paid a decent amount while keeping the cover charge extremely low: $20.00 (as opposed to $60.00 which is what it cost to hear us at the Algonquin — and that was 7 years ago!). The trick is to not do one-offs or once-a-weeks, but to have them do entire weekends. This, of course, also means that I have to book people who are established enough to be able to fill the house three nights in a row.

What’s with all this Cole Porter on the schedule (not that I’m complaining, mind you)?

I’m a huge Cole Porter fan and, frankly so are most people who live on the Upper East Side. (Really — is there anyone who’s NOT a Porter fan??) Because the shows are so inexpensive, I thought it might be fun for the audience to compare how different performers take on the same subject. His catalog is so vast and excellent, that there are very few songs that are being repeated. I’m calling the series “Cole and Slaw at the Beach” and my original idea was to have every artist do “Cole” for their early show and “Slaw” for their late show (SLAW being a potpourri of whatever they want to sing). Most of the artists didn’t want to do 11:15 shows, so I’m doing all the late shows and I have half of the artists doing COLE and half doing SLAW.

How does your own Cole Porter show After Dark differ from the one you’ve done with KT Sullivan A Swell Party?

It’s entirely different. That show was as much about KT and me as it was about Cole. In this show I explore the difference between his list songs and his love songs and I get much more involved in his personal life, because so much of it jives with my personal experience. (A gay musician born in the Midwest who gets to New York and, eventually Europe to become a bon vivant, while working to be a serious artist at the same time. Sound familiar?) I do a lot of different songs than what KT and I did. As I say, he wrote so many amazing songs, there are dozens of Porter shows possible without repeating…

I know you like to “multi-track” your cabaret shows, structuring several layers of meaning in interlocking ways. What’s Mark Nadler’s subtext for After Dark — anything we should look out for?

The only thing I’ll tell you is that Cole Porter wrote a lot of his songs in the wee hours; that’s when the muse would court him. So, of course, there’s a literal meaning to the title. Also, we (the human race) tend to let our demons come out and play “after dark” and then, of course, there’s Porter’s uncanny ability to rally after unfathomable personal tragedy — so much of his work was written after ‘dark’ periods in his life. I have secret, personal associations with all of this… who doesn’t?

Ideally, would you want to curate multiple shows about other composers? If so, which ones?

I thought about maybe doing that, but it could get a little tired. If I did, however, I certainly would happily take on Gershwin, Rodgers, Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern — but even as I say this, I’m thinking that sounds awfully “92nd St. Y” and they already have one of those on the Upper East Side. What I WILL do is try to come up with some theme for each season, just because I think that’s fun for the audience and I like to do crossword puzzles, if you know what I mean…

The main thing I want people to get about what I’m doing at the Beach is that I’m trying to create a place where you don’t have to know who’s performing there specifically, but that you can trust that whenever you go there you’ll hear someone who can really, really sing and perform doing exceptional work and you won’t have to break the bank to go. Hopefully, “Let’s go to the Beach” will be one of the things people answer when asked “what do you want to do tonight” — that it will be as easy a decision to make as “Let’s go to a movie.”

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

News: Opera I’m directing – “Goyescas” – opens TONIGHT

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I’ve directed a new production of Enrique Granados’s 1916 opera Goyescas, which opens tonight and runs through November 22. Tickets available here.

Here’s a promotional video:

Love, death, seductive music, and fiery dance come together this November in the opera Goyescas. Bare Opera presents this bohemian opera by Spanish composer Enrique Granados, inspired by the lush paintings of Goya. Set in the vibrant urban landscape of 1980s Madrid, this tragic romantic tale features rapturous songs and flamenco-inspired dance.

The opera will be paired with charming selections from Isaac Albéniz’s Suite Española, specially arranged for orchestra and dance for this production.

This bold new production is directed by Jonathan Warman, choreographed by Liz Piccoli, and features costumes by fashion designer Laura Kung. Bare Opera’s principal conductor, Sesto Quatrini, leads the performances.

News: I’m directing a reading of a P!nk musical

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I will direct a developmental reading of the new musical Mean at Emerging Artists Theatre. The musical, with book by Kerri Kochanski (1,001 People That Suck, The Food Monologues), features music and lyrics by Grammy Award winning pop icon Alecia Moore (aka P!nk). The workshop features choreography by Liz Piccoli (Spandex the Musical), and musical direction by Luke Williams.

Mean tells the story of Jinx, an up and coming rock star in Hollywood, using some of P!nk’s biggest hits as its soundtrack.

The reading is open to the public and will take place on Saturday, May 30th at 2:00 PM at the TADA Theater, 15 West 28th Street in NYC.

The cast features Rock of Ages star Justin Mortelliti (Broadway World Award nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical), Meghan Leathers (Scenes From An Execution), Luis Villabon (Reefer Madness), Elyssa Brette Mactas (A & E’s “The Haunting of Beverly Mitchell”), Jay Reum, Michael Fisher, Jennifer Roderer, Espen Sigurdsen, Tim Realbuto, Zach Wachter, Jon Garrity, Charly Dannis, Madeline Acquaviva, Shaina Vencel, Loulu Luzi, Thea Lammers, Mary Bolt, Shannon Burke, and Kevin P. Sullivan. Vanna Richardson will serve as the Production Stage Manager.

Tickets, priced at $10, are available here.

For more about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

News: “NAFTA comedy” I’m directing opens TONIGHT!

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Quit the Road, Jack, a new comedy by Jerry Polner, directed by GaySocialites contributor Jonathan Warman, about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), premieres tonight, Thursday March 5 as a guest production of TheaterLab in Manhattan.

When the son of a divorced and miserable couple of burnt-out ex-musicians runs away from home to join up with the immigrant worker rights movement, mom and dad are forced to travel across North America together to find their boy. Directed by Jonathan Warman, acclaimed for his work by the New York Times, Backstage, TimeOut NY and Theatermania. Quit plays Thursday to Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM through March 22. TheaterLab is at 357 West 36th Street, 3rd floor in Manhattan (between 8th-9th Avenue; Subway A,C,E to 34th Street), and $18 tickets are available ($12 student discounts for advance sales, using promotional code STU; discounts for groups of 10 or more ­ use promotional code BIG) at OvationTix at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/941428 .

Jerry Polner (“I saw a lot of terrific shows at The Planet Connections Festivity, but nothing made me laugh louder, longer, or more pleasurably than the first scene of Jerry Polner’s Fix Number Six”­ Martin Denton, nytheatre.com), is a writer of sketches, parodies, and stage comedies, many taking skewed looks at serious issues. Recently, his How Do You Want it, a romantic comedy about the Federal Reserve System, won the Planet Connections Award for Outstanding Production of a Staged Reading, and his Fix Number Six, nominated for six Planet Connections awards, was also published by Next Stage Press and Indie Theater Now. His other short plays have been produced by the Workshop Theater Company, Brooklyn Playwrights Collective, Manhattan Theatre Source, and NY Madness; and Weatherman, a comedy about the weather bureau, was published by Samuel French. Jerry’s comedy sketch script Fugitive Math Teachers was one of the winners of Break Media¹s Break.com Video Contest. Online, he has written for Political Subversities and McSweeney’s.

Quit the Road, Jack, produced by Radical Gags Theatrics, is co-presented by ALIGN (Alliance For A Greater New York), Community Voices Heard. The Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, and New York Immigration Coalition. In connection with the subject matter of the play, the co-presenting organizations will join in Fair Work, an onstage panel discussion about immigration and worker rights, immediately after the Thursday March 12 performance.

Jonathan Warman’s New York work includes the premiere of Tennessee Williams’s Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws, starring Mink Stole and Everett Quinton (“Outrageously entertaining, thanks to the imagination of the director”­ Backstage; “His surehanded staging provokes both laughs and thought” ­ Theatermania) and the new musical Me and Caesar Lee with two-time Tony nominee Ernestine Jackson. For more information on his directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

The cast of Quit the Road, Jack, features Cynthia Bastidas; RJ Batlle; Jes Dugger (Fancy Nancy, “Homeland”,  “One Tree Hill”); Rosemary Howard (“The Wolf Of Wall Street”); Connor Johnston; Jorge Marcos (“The Good Wife”, “White Collar”), Jaime Puerta (El Quijote, La Isla Desnuda) Jay Reum and Rob Skolits (The Normal Heart, Lincoln Center Theater). Set design is by Eric Marchetta, costume design is by Maddie Peterson, lighting design is by Yuriy Nayer, and choreography is by Liz Piccoli. The production is stage managed by Vanna Richardson.

News: I’m directing NAFTA comedy “Quit the Road, Jack” by Jerry Polner

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In March 2015, I will be directing Jerry Polner’s new comedy Quit the Road, Jack. It’s a comedy about NAFTA! But it’s actually about a divorced and miserable couple of burnt-out ex-musicians whose 16-year-old son runs away from home. Somehow, the son gets involved in the immigrant worker rights movement. He sends cryptic notes back to his parents, telling them what losers they are and giving them just enough information to make them think they can find him. Mom and Dad can’t stomach each other, but neither trusts the other one to find Jack, and so they’re forced to travel across North America together in search of their son.

For more about my directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Interview: J. Stephen Brantley

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Playwright/actor J. Stephen Brantley (pictured above, right) set his gay-themed play Pirira  during the July 20, 2011 riots in the African nation of Malawi. As that country erupts in riots, American aid workers Jack and Ericka take shelter in the storage room of a struggling NGO. Half a world away, Malawian student Gilbert and his gay co-worker Chad begin another day in the back room of a Manhattan florist. By the day’s end, they discover their lives are inextricably linked across continents, language, and time. I asked Brantley to provide some insight into this intriguing work.

What is Pirira about?

Pirira tracks two seemingly unrelated stories, separated by 7000 miles, simultaneously. It’s about the unexpected ways in which our lives are connected with, and our identities are tied to, people who may be very different from us. One of these stories is about American NGO workers in Malawi during the 2011 demonstrations. The other features a Malawian student in the states working in a wholesale florist’s with a gay New Yorker. Audiences see both unfold at once, in the same space, in real time.

You also act in Pirira. What’s that been like for you?
Really challenging. I’ve acted in my own work many times, and I’m writing a one-man thing for myself at the moment. But Pirira is different. Maybe because of the complex musical architecture of the piece, maybe because it all feels so personal…Jack is not an easy role to act anyway, but I find it nearly impossible to do so when I’m in my playwright head at all. It’s never been like that for me, but some nights it’s like going to battle with myself.
I know you’ve been thinking about writing plays about Africa for a long time. Is this the final result, or is this a subject you might continue to pursue in other plays?
Pirira is probably not my only Malawi play. I packed a lot into this one, but there is much more I want to say about that place and the people there. My big dream is to write something there, on African soil, and maybe work with some Malawian performers in putting it up.
You have long been concerned about the situation of gays in Africa. How can our readers help or get involved?
It’s tricky. Change comes slowly to Africa, and rarely at the demands of progressive-minded Americans. And yet, I know for sure that LGBT people in Malawi, in Uganda, and in the rest of the continent need and want our support. I’m a huge fan of Frank Mugisha and Sexual Minorities Uganda. Sign up for and share updates from the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission. And in Malawi, and organization called CEDEP is one of the few NGOs championing LGBT rights. Their office was smashed up a few weeks ago, and they could certainly use our support. Educate yourself. Sign the online petitions. Just cultivating an awareness that LGBT rights is a global issue, and a matter of life and death in much of the world, will get us closer to true equality and human dignity for all.
For tickets, click here.

News: I’m directing a reading of “The Happy Hooker”, Broadway-bound musical

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I’m directing a reading of the Broadway-bound new musical The Happy Hooker, which will be presented October 7 at The Cutting Room in Manhattan.

First published in 1971, Xaviera Hollander’s memoir The Happy Hooker: My Own Story (co-written with Robin Moore and Yvonne Dunleavy) has now sold over 20 million copies.

Producer Cindy Sibilsky presents the invitation-only reading of The Happy Hooker: The Musical, which features music by Warren Wills (The Penelopiad for the RSC) and a book and lyrics by Richard Hansom (Plan 9 From Outer Space). Xaviera Hollander herself serves as co-author and creative consultant for the musical.

Featuring musical direction and arrangements by rock legend Mike Garson, David Bowie’s pianist since 1972, the reading will also feature Matilda‘s Betsy Struxness in the title role of Xaviera Hollander, as well the talents of Christopher Tierney (Spiderman, Movin’ Out, Dirty Dancing), Richard Blake (Matilda, Wicked, Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer), Jason Mills, Michael Zegarzki, Abe Goldfarb, Elyssa Brette Mactas, Gabrielle Ruiz, MaryAnne Piccolo, Andromeda Turre, Kimilee Bryant and Sal Manzo. Josh Parkin-Ring is the stage manager.

A frank and informative account of Xaviera’s years as the most influential madam in New York, The Happy Hooker has been hailed as the most important book of its era on the subject of sex. Its delightfully explicit accounts of the swinger scenes of the late 1960s and early 1970s introduced its readership to jaw-dropping stories of lesbianism, bondage, fetishism and more, with a mix of shrewd observation and uninhibited appetite.

For more information, see happyhookerthemusical.com.

For more about my directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.