Mark Nadler's '...His Lovely Wife, Ira' at The Metropolitan Room
by Michael Dale - June 11, 2009
Just in time for the centennial of the great lyricist's bar mitzvah, Mark Nadler arrives at The Metropolitan Room with a smashing celebration of the words of Ira Gershwin. Titled ...His Lovely Wife, Ira, after an infamous faux-pas made by a British radio announcer, Nadler explains his mission here is to explore beyond the "indelible ampersand attaching him to George" and honor the elder Gershwin's brilliance outside of his more gregarious brother's shadow.
Gregarious, of course, is a word I'd wager has been used to describe Nadler himself quite often. Combining the zaniness of Groucho, the joyousness of Harpo, the musicality of Chico and, well... a much more versatile singing voice than Zeppo, this singer/pianist/arranger/historian can always be counted on to put on a show that entertains ferociously while educating audiences on the intricacies of the American Songbook. The humor is only slightly subdued this time around, but Nadler's textbook knowledge and tremendous gift for pointing out fresh nuance in songs we've heard a hundred times before helps make this one of his more beguiling efforts.
After a pairing of "Gotta Have Me Go With You" and "I'll Supply The Title (You Supply The Tune)" (both with music by Harold Arlen) to introduce the evening's theme of collaboration (He calls songwriting, "Two arts under emotional pressure coalescing into a third.") Nadler gives a practical demonstration of the craft involved as he "becomes" Ira Gershwin trying to fit words into an especially intricate George Gershwin composition. He claps out the rhythm several times, letting it sink in and creates "dummy lyrics"; the nonsense sentences used by lyricists in the days before tape recorders to help them remember how a melody scans. All the while he complains aloud, "Fascinating rhythm, you've got me on the go. Fascinating rhythm, I'm all a-quiver," until realizing that the words he uses to express his struggle are the perfect companions for that advanced syncopation. It takes a while to figure out exactly what he's doing (well, you have a head start now) but the result is an, indeed, fascinating playlet.
Another example of the artistic sweat exuded by this perfectionist is a series of lyrics set to the same Jerome Kern melody, showing how after many, many revisions the oddity "Manhattan Madness' evolved into the sumptuous "Long Ago And Far Away."
Ira Gershwin's insistence on not using the phrase," I love you," in his love songs is demonstrated with a wistful "Someone To Watch Over Me" and an especially tense, "Embraceable You," where a hopeful lover carefully chooses the right words to help win his heart's desire. What is especially evident in ballads is Nadler's captivating ability, as both vocalist and pianist, to give classic compositions unexpected conversational phrasing that is both melodic and natural.
"Love Is Sweeping The Country" is an old standard that has been given new life by the gay marriage rights movement, but when Nadler places meaningful emphasis on, "Each girl and boy alike / Sharing joy alike," it makes you feel like the all-encompassing interpretation was intended all along. The performer's optimism for the country's new administration feeds his sincere rendering of "It's A New World" (music by Arlen) and with a wink to those who would have religion dictate politics, he sings "It Ain't Necessarily So" with incredulous wonderment at the unbelievable accomplishments of Jonah, David & Co.
In one of the evening's most heartfelt moments, Nadler "becomes" Ira Gershwin once again; this time reacting to the unexpected death of his 38-year-old brother and artistic partner. When his mourning brings new, but oh-so-right, meaning to "The Man That Got Away," one can't help but wonder what the magnificent scores the pair might have produced during what we now call Broadway's Golden Age.
Mark Nadler's ...His Lovely Wife, Ira plays Thursday nights through June 25th. It's a chance to see one of cabaret's brightest and most inventive stars in peak form.