When Barry Martin, co-founder and managing director of Lucky Penny Productions, asked Marty Nemko — career coach, author, columnist and public radio host — to lead a piano bar, Nemko proposed an alternative.
“If you’re going to give me the Lucky Penny stage,” he countered, “let me do something that would be more entertaining.”
Thus was born “Odd Man Out,” an autobiographical, comical and musical journey performed for one night only, last Saturday, at Lucky Penny Community Arts Center.
During the nearly two-hour presentation, Nemko vividly articulates the highs of success and lows of rejection. He battles adversity, meets the love of his life, earns professional respect and ultimately shares his acumen with thousands of clients.
If this sounds like a “how to” lecture followed by a book signing with the author, forget about it!
In his red T-shirt (first half), gray jeans and tennis shoes, Nemko energetically owned center stage, floating between sharing stories — with his New York-tinged accent — interspersed with musical interludes. His genius on the piano (in this instance a keyboard) manifested early on, not only when he performed songs, but when he solicited musical requests (during intermission and post-show) and played each without a shred of hesitation or sheet music.
To prepare for “Odd Man Out,” Nemko penned a list of every instance in his life that either “made me small or made me sad,” he shared, and he promised, “there will not be one exaggeration!”
We learned that as a 5-year-old, living in a Bronx tenement with his parents and sister, he tried to buy other kids’ friendships (gumballs were tossed to audience members).
Nemko was a hyperactive student and considered “nerdy” by his classmates. When he was bored in class, he made up his own tests by reading the World Book Encyclopedia, ordering puzzle books and creating a fantasy life. His memories are of being a troublemaker and of the other kids “hating my guts.”
What eventually brought Nemko the kudos and admiration he so desperately yearned for was his talent on the piano. His first big break came when, at age 13, he was asked to play at an elementary school graduation. In junior high, his first real gig was playing for a New Year’s Eve party hours from his home (and ending up sleeping on a train platform overnight). And then there was the experience of performing in a Catskill’s “casino” at age 15 where Nemko admits, “I saw my first naked woman.”
Wisely, Nemko’s vignettes and poignant tales of jobs gone wrong are peppered with appearances by two talented collaborators: character actor and wife, Barbara Nemko (aka Napa County superintendent of schools), whose role as “messenger” repeatedly delivers language akin to “you’re fired”; and award-winning singer/actress Dani Beem, who belts out Broadway tunes such as “Maybe This Time“ and “Defying Gravity” with power and panache.
By the end of the evening, we’ve witnessed Nemko’s evolution from lonely, misunderstood kid to a highly accomplished entrepreneurial educator and counselor. Along the way, we’ve had so much fun, thanks to a variety of delicious music, laughs galore and an appreciative, sympathetic and participatory audience. Nemko’s past litany of rejections belies his total acceptance by a venue packed with friends and colleagues.
“I believe that theater is all about emotion, laughing and crying,” Nemko disclosed when asked about writing his play. “Even successful, famous people are very different than what their profile may say. I’ll either strike out or hit a home run.”
In “Odd Man Out,” Nemko has knocked it out of the park.