Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)
Reviews and Quotes:
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 aniacally 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, "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)," a zany tutorial in modern Russian music spun off from one of the greatest patter songs ever written.
That song, "Tschaikowsky (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 ine.
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
Holy Stravinsky, The Russians Are Back!
by Rex Reed
Years before the plague called reality TV, Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin wrote the ultimate celebrity challenge—a song entitled "Tchaikovsky (And Other Russians)". Performed by an unknown chorus boy named Danny Kaye, the song made its historic debut in the 1941 Broadway musical, Lady in the Dark. It also made Danny Kaye a star. This tongue twister—which consisted of the names of 49 unpronounceable Russian composers that Mr. Kaye rattled off like artillery fire in a breathtaking 39 seconds—has, for obvious reasons, rarely been performed since.
From the second he bounds onto the stage of the beautiful new FireBird Upstairs Supper Club, at 365 W. 46th St., Mark Nadler exhibits a spellbinding manic energy.
Originally published on January 8, 2003
In 1941 Danny Kaye became an overnight sensation in "Lady In The Dark" when he stopped the show cold singing Kurt Weill’s and Ira Gershwin’s, "Tchaikowski (and Other Russians)", a list of forty-eight Russian composers rattled off at break-neck speed. In his new show, Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians), award-winning entertainer, Mark Nadler, deconstructs this song by examining each of these composers -- sometimes briefly, sometimes at length.
These examinations take us to songs like "I Can’t Get Started", "I Concentrate On You", "The Ugly Duckling" (infused with "Swan Lake") and eleven other great American songs. The material ranges from standards to new works by Adam Guettel, (the grand-son of and heir apparent to Richard Rodgers) and Carol Hall, (the composer/lyricist of "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas".) The show features high comedy, virtuosic piano playing and Mark even does a touching and thrilling softshoe while accompanying himself at the piano to "Very Soft Shoes", (from Once Upon A Mattress). Because of all of the biographical and historical information discussed in the show, it is extremely educational without ever losing its firm foot-hold in entertainment. Tchaikowski (and Other Russians) is extremely funny and tuneful and yet, is also a serious examination of the nature of fame and legacy. By the time the show concludes with Mark singing the song, "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" while playing, simultaneously, a bit of music by each of the composers, (including Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokoviev, Rimsky-Korsakov and of couse, Tschaikowsky), the audience is on their feet cheering.
The Siegels' Nightlife Notes
The art of cabaret is often considered to have reached its height when a gifted singer performs great songs with sensational arrangements. Well, cabaret also achieves something akin to perfection when a musical comedy madman named Mark Nadler takes on the famous patter song "Tchaikowski" (Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin) and then proceeds to create a comically brilliant show in which everything flows from the wellspring of the act's title tune.
The act is called Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians) and it had its New York City premiere at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room during the Cabaret Convention. It was part of the Oak Room's Cabaret Cavalcade; but that night, with Nadler at the piano, it was more like a Cabaret Kaleidescope. He brought color, originality, and an almost infinite sense of possibility to what many people incorrectly believe is an
The act begins with Nadler's performance of "Tschaikowsky," which was one of Danny Kaye's signature songs. It's a blazing opener that sets the stage for Nadler's extraordinary conceit. After singing the song, he notes that people always ask him how he remembers the lyrics, a wild and woolly string of the names of approximately four dozen Russian composers, ranging from the famous to the footnote. He replies that it's easy if you know who the Russian composers are. With that, he launches into a generous one-hour plus act in which he identifies the reason -- musical and/or personal -- why each composer was included in the song. If this description makes the show sound academic or esoteric, let us assure you that it is anything but. nothing is sacred to Nadler except laughter, and he sings and sasses his way through these Russian composers (and their relationship to Ira Gershwin's lyric) with more relish than you'll find at Nathan's.
As he comically chomps through selections of Russian classical music, Nadler gives us a history lesson we won't soon forget; he also performs about a dozen other songs, many of them far more familiar. He seamlessly connects tunes as disparate as "I Concentrate on You" (Cole Porter), "Only a Broken Heart" (Carol Hall), and "The Ugly Duckling" (Frank Loesser) to his narrative with an almost miraculous ease by
Nadler is a performer for whom the word "Big" was invented. Nonetheless, he can be delicate when the music calls upon him to be so. And while his voice isn't the prettiest instrument in cabaret, it is surprisingly expressive. Despite his well earned reputation for edgy, in-your-face humor, he can also do a wonderful job with a passionate ballad. It is, in fact, his ability to modulate his performance style that keeps the driving narrative of this show from exhausting the audience. Nadler packs an amazing amount of research into the act but tosses it off with the brio of a performer who is confident that he will always have more ascinating nuggets of information to impart, better musical examples to make his points, and ever more wonderful songs to sing. That confidence is well-earned.
If anything in the world of New York nightlife is remotely comparable to Nadler's show, it is Rob Kapilow's entertaining deconstruction of standards for Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series. Kapilow will be at it again on November 15 with a Bernstein program featuring performances by Brian d'Arcy James and Ana Marie Andricain, at the Kaplan Penthouse. This is exactly where Mark Nadler's Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians) should be playing next year; it is a first cousin to Kapilow's concept, but from the loopy side of the family. Nadler's show is a natural for the Lincoln Center series because it's a graduate level course on the Great American Songbook and its antecedents, as well as one of the most inspired and entertaining musical comedy acts of this or any other year.