Life is a cabaret, as the song goes, but so, for the chanteuse at the center of Alexis Fishman’s new one-woman musical, “Der Gelbe Stern” (The Yellow Star), is death. In a nightclub in Weimar Germany, a Jewish singer named Erika Stern performs her last concert before her deportation. Reprising songs from the period, “Der Gelbe Stern” runs for five performances at the upcoming New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in Midtown.
When “Der Gelbe Stern” ran in 2011 in Sydney, critic Mandy Fung of Australian Stage called Fishman’s singing “phenomenal” and gushed that the character’s “sorrow, forlorn and bitterness is spat out with just the right doses of humor, sweetness, innocence and longing.”
In “Der Gelbe Stern,” directed by Sharone Halevy, Stern sings erotic songs, flirts with her silent bandleader, lampoons Hitler, and vents her rage at the Nazis — even as she catches a bouquet in the shape of a swastika that symbolizes that she will be the Third Reich’s next victim. Among the satirical numbers are “The Jews Are All To Blame,” set to music from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” (with lyrics by Friedrich Hollaender), and last heard in New York in Jeremy Lawrence’s 1991 Off-Broadway revue, “Cabaret Verboten.”
Fishman, 31, grew up in Sydney as the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. She is a veteran of many musicals in Australia, and she is currently appearing in the Off-Broadway musical, “Atomic,” about the Hungarian Jewish physicist Leo Szilard’s work on the Manhattan Project. She co-wrote “Der Gelbe Stern” with fellow Australian singer James Millar, whose musical “The Hatpin” ran at NYMF in 2008.
In an interview, Fishman said that seeing the film version of “Cabaret” when she was 14 years old exposed her to the “sexy, political” world of the Weimar period, and she was hooked. Thus, in writing the musical, she created the character of a “racy, provocative” performer clad in a slinky, low-cut black dress who offers saucy, stream-of-consciousness political commentary at a time when Jewish artists of all kinds (from orchestra conductors to painters to novelists) were losing their place in German society — and many were fleeing for their lives.
The show, Fishman noted, thrusts its audience into the role of the Weimar cabaret audience. “The audience might be wondering whether they would have been complicit,” Fishman suggested, “or what they would have done” to halt the terrible evil that was overtaking their society.
“Der Gelbe Stern” runs at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, which is within the West Bank Cafe, 407 W. 42nd St. Performances are Monday, July 14 at 8 p.m., Thursday, July 17 at 1 p.m., Sunday, July 20 at noon, and Monday, July 21 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. For tickets, $25 (with no food or drink minimum), call OvationTix at (212) 352-3101 or visit www.nymf.org.