Mark Nadler

The New York Times

MUSIC REVIEW | MARK NADLER All About Ira Gershwin: ’S Encyclopedic

By STEPHEN HOLDEN June 12, 2009

For some performers, everything old will always be brand new. The singer and pianist Mark Nadler, for one, imparts vintage musical theater lore with the bursting enthusiasm of a newsboy waving the headlines and shouting, “Extra, extra, read all about it!”

Thus the information in Mr. Nadler’s smart, hyperbolic Ira Gershwin show at the Metropolitan Room that Mr. Gershwin wrote more than 30 versions of the lyrics for “Long Ago and Far Away” (with music by Jerome Kern) is crowed as though it were hot off the presses. Earlier drafts of the song are used as a thematic thread in a show whose amusing title, “... His Lovely Wife Ira,” refers to a disc jockey’s naïve assumption that George and Ira Gershwin were husband and wife, not brothers.

Mr. Nadler goes out of his way to depict Gershwin as a lyricist who was ahead of his time. The words “All the sexes/From Maine to Texas/ Have never known such love before,” in “Love Is Sweeping the Country,” are portrayed as foreshadowing gay marriage. That is followed by a version of “It’s a New World” (with music by Harold Arlen) from the 1955 “A Star Is Born,” with special lyrics written for a 1963 Carnegie concert by Lena Horne in which references to hope, faith and self-esteem turned it into a mild civil rights anthem.

On Thursday, Mr. Nadler transformed “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from “Porgy and Bess,” into a song about evolution versus intelligent design, mugging expressions of comic disbelief for each Bible story.

Mr. Nadler is the closest thing in cabaret to a scenery-chewing old-time vaudevillian in the Jolson mold. His Gershwin show is typical of the way he grabs you by the collar and insists you get on his nostalgic wavelength. Like an excitable teacher carried away with his subject, he turns names carved in stone into flesh-and-blood creatures with personalities, passions and quirks. Because he has seemingly more energy than anyone in the audience, Mr. Nadler can be as exhausting as he is exhilarating.

But near the end of Thursday’s concert, when he recited an abridged version of the lyrics for “The Man That Got Away,” interpreted as Ira’s elegy for George, whom he survived by 46 years, the concept made perfect — and poignant — sense.