Don’t get Marcus Nance started on Herman Cain.
The American-born Toronto-based performer has a few choice words about the former pizza executive turned Republican presidential candidate. And Nance is not just upset about Cain’s incompetence on foreign policy, his inane economic plans, or even his staunch social conservatism.
“It’s offensive to me how he panders to white people,” Nance says. “When he tells people it’s their own fault if they don’t have a job, he’s trying to score bonus points with rich white voters at the expense of black people. He wants us to believe that race doesn’t hold people back anymore and uses his own success as proof of that. But the truth is he just got lucky.”
The relationship between race and one’s ability to succeed has been percolating in Nance’s mind while he’s been planning his cabaret event, Unforgettable. The evening will feature tunes by great African-American crooners Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and, of course, Nat King Cole. But Nance has also dug through the crates for some rarities. Though not short on talent, many artists never made it big in their own time.
“There are a lot of lost musicians from that period, like Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine, who were incredible singers but never broke in the mainstream,” he says. “Black women were considered exotic, so they had an easier time crossing over. But black men were considered a threat. The idea of a bunch of white girls swooning while a black man sang was a problem for a lot of people. I’m hoping to give them their due.”
Born in the tiny costal California town of Pacific Grove, Nance studied at Fresno State and the University of Texas in Austin before landing in Toronto. Free healthcare aside, what brought him north was the man who would eventually become his husband. He scored early success with a role in the Toronto production of Showboat in 1993, and the steady stream of work that followed helped him gain landed immigrant status and all its perks. But in the pre-marriage-equality era, gaining full citizenship by tying the knot was not an option. So Nance took matters into his own hands.
“I never thought I would become a citizen of another country, but I had a hard time living somewhere and not being able to vote,” he says. “I had all the criteria, so I did the application process, but I kept it a secret from my partner. The day of the big group swearing-in, I told him we had a date and then took him to the courthouse. When he realized what was happening he cried.”
Nance has continued to pursue his career on both sides of the border, working on numerous operas and big musicals. He has also landed roles in high-profile films like The Producers and has occasionally strutted down the catwalk for Toronto Fashion Week. Most recently he wowed crowds as Caiaphas in the Stratford Festival’s wildly successful production of Jesus Christ Superstar. But it’s the intimacy of the small cabaret space he loves best.
“In a big theatre you have to play to the back of the house, but in a cabaret you can pretend you’re in your living room,” he says. “It’s a wonderfully intimate kind of space that makes for a great romantic date night. All the songs are really smooth. I like to think my voice goes well with red wine and lube.”
Marcus Nance performs at Green Door Cabaret
Thurs, Nov 10, 8pm
Lower Ossington Theatre
100A Ossington Ave