Mark Nadler

NEW  YORK TIMES July 10, 2004


Seeing Today as a Golden Age                                                



Mark Nadler makes a witty point in his new cabaret act, "Write Now! (Songs by People Who Aren't Dead)," by choosing contemporary rags as musical bookends in his program of songs by living composers. Ragtime is a style that suits the temperament of this aggressively garrulous singer and pianist, who is appearing at Opia (130 West 57th Street) Thursdays through Sundays through July 31. When ragtime was becoming the rage 100 years ago, he says, people griped about it the same way people later complained about rock 'n' roll and hip-hop replacing "good" music. Yet here it is, one of many flavors on the contemporary menu.

With his blend of musical analysis and hyperbole, Mr. Nadler has something stylistically in common with Robert Kapilow, whose series "What Makes It Great," at Lincoln Center, transforms musicology into entertainment.

But Mr. Nadler is really a modern-day vaudevillian, a compulsive entertainer whose strong performing personality echoes everyone from Bobby Short to Al Jolson.

He is also an expert at building a cabaret act. His rigorously structured show begins with the rag-flavored ballad "Blame It On a Summer Night" (by Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz) from the ill-fated Broadway show "Rags," and ends with two wildly upbeat numbers by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens from "Ragtime."

In between he performs songs (many of them obscure) by John Wallowitch, Francesca Blumenthal, Carol Hall, Ervin Drake and others, skillfully interweaving them with show business lore.

Mr. Nadler favors intricate patter songs like "Third Finger Thumb," John Forster's internal monologue of a disgruntled child piano prodigy set to Grieg's Piano Concerto, and "I Kinda Like It Here in France," Joe Kerr's caustically funny assessment of Gallic traits. Mr. Nadler slips only when he applies his bright, brittle style to moody saloon songs. He admits in his show that he has an antipathy to Frank Sinatra. But that does keep him from making the mistake of venturing into the wrong territory.