THE NEW YORK TIMES January 10, 2003
Danny Kaye Hit Becomes a Russian Music Survey
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
It takes a comic spark plug touched with brilliance to pull off the kind of tour de force that the maniacally exuberant singer, pianist and cutup Mark Nadler has brought (through Jan. 25) to the Firebird Upstairs Supper Club, the opulent new cabaret atop the Firebird restaurant at 365 West 46th Street. In keeping with the club's jewel-box décor and rich Russian cuisine, Mr. Nadler is performing his one-man show, "Tchaikowsky (and Other Russians)," a zany tutorial in modern Russian music spun off from one of the greatest patter songs ever written.
That song, "Tchaikowsky (and Other Russians)" became an instant classic when introduced by Danny Kaye in "Lady in the Dark" in 1941. With music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, this torrent of tongue-twisting verbiage drops the names of 49 composers, from Malichevsky, Rubinstein and Arensky to Gretchnaninoff, Kvoschinsky and Rachmaninoff during its mad dash to an imaginary finish line.
Those names, even the most esoteric ones, are not imaginary. As Mr. Nadler's show careers wildly along, he offers tiny musical fragments along with instant analyses (and in some cases personality profiles) of a good number of those 49. In between, he makes fanciful leaps of connection between his research and a dozen first-rate songs by composers, from Rodgers and Hart to Adam Guettel to John Wallowitch. Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," for instance, is connected to "Stranger in Paradise," adapted from a melody by the Russian composer Borodin, whom Mr. Nadler tells us was an extraordinarily nice guy.
In his musical sweep and show-business savvy, Mr. Nadler might be compared to Victor Borge, except that their stage personalities are almost diametrically opposed. Where Mr. Borge, the Danish pianist and comedian, was a sly, suave prankster, Mr. Nadler is a raucous, excitable vaudevillian descended from Al Jolson. Mr. Nadler doesn't tease the emotions. With his ferocious pianism and crowing delivery, he is a traditional show-biz virtuoso of what might be called the hard sell. When he's on, he's "on."