Cabaret dazzler Mark Nadler is on the road both literally and figuratively. He and his partner, a classical pianist, are in the car heading back to New York from a gig in Louisville, Ky. Not to worry, he’s on the phone, but he’s hands free (“Unlike my love life,” he quips). The time in Louisville was great because, as he quips again, he got his “two lips around a julep.”
In the figurative sense, Nadler is on the road to the past in his new show. That shouldn’t be a surprise for a singing-and-piano-playing raconteur like Nadler, who mines the Great American Songbook for all it’s worth. The surprise is that Nadler is not heading back quite as far this time. He’s reaching back to 1961, his birth year, in Crazy 1961, which make its San Francisco debut at The Rrazz Room on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Think about 1961 for a minute. In addition to Nadler’s arrival on the planet (along with Barack Obama, George Clooney and Scott Baio), the year saw movie releases such as The Parent Trap, West Side Story and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In world events, the Vietnam War started, construction began on the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy signed the Peace Corps into being and the Bay of Pigs incident nearly turned the Cold War atomic hot. That’s an eventful year.
It’s all covered in Nadler’s show, which he began researching as his 50th birthday loomed. Once he started delving into his birth year, he was hooked.
“It’s a fascinating year both historically and musically,” he says. “Musically it sits right on the cusp of the Golden Age of musical theater and rock and roll. Gypsy and The Music Man both closed that year, and Bob Dylan and The Beatles made their first performances in public. Everything was teetering on the brink. Judy Garland did her big comeback concert at Carnegie Hall. Barbra Streisand made her first TV appearance. The Supremes were signed to Motown and Patsy Cline recorded ‘Crazy’ on my birthday.”
Because he’s covering such a wide range of music, Nadler, who usually accompanies himself, is backed by a full band – bass, drums, guitar and horns. And Nadler proudly writes all of his own arrangements and orchestrations, which are not always what you might expect. For instance, he does Noël Coward’s “Sail Away” (from the show of the same name), but he doesn’t do it a la Coward. He does it as a hard-driving rock song that’s about heading to Vietnam. And he doesn’t do “Crazy” the way Cline did it. Because 1961 was also the year that Ray Charles swept the Grammy Awards, he re-imagines the song as if Charles were doing it.
Nadler is still his charming, high-energy self in this show, but this outing really does showcase another side of the performer. He doesn’t tap dance this time around, but he does do The Twist.
“The response to this show is the strongest I’ve ever gotten,” he says. “I have loyal, generous audiences who have liked my work, but I’ve never seen so many people coming back to see it again and again. I guess the more you see it, the more you get out of it.”
Perhaps the repeat business has something to do with the colossal medley Nadler put together of the Top 50 songs of 1961 (including “Moon River,” “Stand by Me,” “Calendar Girl,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” to name a few). That’s 50 songs in eight minutes (see below for a sneak peek).
“What was fun for me in the medley was making it make sense,” Nadler says. “I liked making liaisons, like the last word in one sentence also being the first word in the next song. Or doing things like joining the theme from ‘Mr. Ed’ with Chubby Checker’s ‘The Pony.’ Opportunities like that don’t come along every day.” And let’s not even mention the song “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)?”
Given the success of Crazy 1961, it might be understandable if Nadler became the King of Chronology, doing different shows based on different years. But that’s not likely to happen.
“I have this game I play with myself when I put together shows,” he says. “I have to do something I’ve never done before. I can’t see myself wanting to do a show based on another year. Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim agreed that the greats really try to forge new territory. I’m not saying I’m Rodgers or Sondheim, but when I learned that’s what they did as a modus operandi, I decided to take on that game as well.”
[bonus video sneak peek]
Mark Nadler performs a “fast and furious” medley of the top 50 hits of 1961.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Mark Nadler’s Crazy 1961 is at 9:15pm Friday, Aug. 31 and Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco, Tickets are $35 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit www.therrazzrooom.com.