by Mark Nadler
Tchaikowsky and Other Russians
American Conservatory Theatre has inaugurated a series called Evenings at the Geary, with New York cabaret artist Mark Nadler headlining a madcap cabaret act called Tchaikowsky (and other Russians). This is 90 minutes of tour de force comedy with brief biographies of 48 Russian composers. Many of these masters of music I had never heard before.
Mark Nadler is primary known in New York, where he starred in and co-wrote the Off Broadway Gershwin revue American Rhapsody, which was nominated for the Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk awards in 2001. He also received a MAC Award for outstanding musical revue. This talented singer/pianist has appeared at Carnegie Hall, plus New York engagements at Sardi's, the Oak Room at the Algonquin, the Russian Tea Room and the Cinegrill at the Hollywood Roosevelt (two years of Thursdays at this famous cabaret lounge). The New York Times said "with his ferocious pianism and crowing delivery, Nadler is a traditional show biz virtuoso," and Howard Kissel of the New York Daily News said "What Nadler demonstrates is that great cabaret is really great theater."
Tchaikowsky is a fast paced, outrageous and hilarious show inspired by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's side-splitting, tongue-twisting patter song of the same name. One of my earliest memories is hearing Danny Kaye sing this song on the stage of the Alvin Theatre in Lady In the Dark in 1941. I was in high school at the time, but I can still remember Mr. Kaye rattling off the names of 48 Russian composers in 43 seconds. Mr. Nadler starts the evening's proceedings by singing the comic song. He tells the audience that after they hear about the lives of these composers, they all will be able to sing the song. He also says that San Francisco audiences will be able to grasp the importance of these men because they are the most sophisticated group next to New Yorkers.
Nadler gives a freewheeling spin through more than four dozen composers from Arensky to Rachmaninoff and features snippets of their works. He comically munches through these classical selections, dissecting the theoretical influence of masters like Rimsky-Korsakoff and delivering charmingly witty monologue about Tschaikovky's troubled life, ending with Frank Loesser's "The Ugly Duckling" song.
The New York artist tells a great story about one of the "Russian composers" Vladimir Dukelsy, given the Amerian name Vernon Duke by George Gershwin. Mark goes into a great arrangement of the composer's "I Can't Get Started with You." A highlight is one of my favorites, Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's wonderful, melodic "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," presented in relation to Rimsky-Korsakoff's use of notes in a composition.
Mark does a very clever tap dance routine while sitting at the piano singing and playing Mary Rodgers "Very Soft Shoes" from Once Upon a Mattress. He gets a little carried away on Adam Guettel's "Icarus" and Sondheim's "Next," however, pounding the poor keyboard of the ten foot long Fazioli concert grand so that it drowns out his voice.
Mark Nadler is a wonderful, outrageous singer/pianist/comedian who holds center stage for the full 90 minutes. His ideas are brilliant and so is his execution of the witty remarks. As Rex Reed of the New York Observer remarked "He's a combination of all of the Marx Brothers put together." This is an evening of a dazzling performance by a consummated cabaret artist.