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Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny - Live from Sardi’s

by John Amodeo
Contributor
Sunday Jul 30, 2006
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The intimate and extemporaneous nature of cabaret has been captured very well on such CD’s as Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway’s Sibling Revelry recorded live at Rainbow and Stars, or Julie Wilson’s Live from the Russian Tea Room, where we can hear the wonderful interactions between performer and audience through laughter, applause, and the frequently adlibbed patter. Without the visuals, however, the listening experience of these CD’s can sometimes be frustrating especially when laughter is provoked by a sight gag we can’t see, leaving us wishing there was a DVD of the show. Well, wish no more, because one cabaret artist has finally made a commercially available DVD of his successful act, which, if we are lucky, will spur a trend among his colleagues. It may have taken 6 years to release, but Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny: Live from Sardi’s, the DVD!, which was performed and recorded in 2000, is well worth the wait, and a welcome addition to one’s at-home appreciation of cabaret.

Filmed by Academy Award-nominated documentary maker Ray Errol Fox, the DVD provides all the sights and sounds of the New York City cabaret experience, from taxi arrival, seating, and the electricity of the pre-show buzz in the room, to the actual performance and the wonderful interplay between performer and audience. And what an audience: Nadler’s popularity attracted such theater and cabaret luminaries as Michele Lee, Celeste Holm, Tammy Grimes, Margaret Whiting, Tovah Feldshuh, Steve Ross, Joyce Randolph (the original Trixie on the Honeymooners), and actor/ playwright Charles Busch, in full drag. Nadler’s inclusion of some seven "special guest performers" adds further luster to the evening, especially when the likes of Stephanie Pope, David Campbell, Heather Mac Rae (whose mother, Sheila, portrayed Alice on the Honeymooners), and Nadler’s frequent cohort, KT Sullivan are on the guest list.

Nadler is one of the top cabaret artists in New York, winning numerous MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards, and performing non-stop in Manhattan, around the country, and abroad. A preternaturally talented pianist, dancer, singer, and comedian, Nadler packs more entertainment into 82 minutes than the Cirque du Soleil, and in the process makes mincemeat of the show business adage, "Let them leave wanting more." Nadler’s style is unique, and far more in-your-face than the typical cabaret performer, and as a result this DVD won’t be all things to all people. But fans of cabaret, as well as the cabaret-curious will be rewarded with a great performance that captures the full magic of live cabaret.

Always a total class act, Nadler performs in white tie and tails, which has to be custom made to fit his extra tall frame and long limbs, all of which he waves around constantly, giving the whimsical impression of a windmill at the piano. The pure physicality of his comic shtick has one wondering if his tailor sewed Lycra into every seam of his tux. What is immediately evident in this DVD is that Nadler is a non-stop entertainer, offering a succession of tour-de-force numbers performed solo, and in duet or trio with his guests. He is such a virtuoso pianist, that he can still focus on the audience as he sings. In fact, you nearly forget it’s him that’s playing, until his fantastic piano interludes, which completely cover the eighty-eights, sounding more like piano for four hands (perhaps easy enough for Nadler, who must have a 12-note reach).

Nadler performs his show, containing mostly American Songbook standards, with the energy of a racehorse just out of the block, reminding one of a much younger Bobby Short on speed. His opening two numbers, Fascinatin’ Rhythm and Let the Good Times Roll display Nadler’s full physical prowess at the keyboard, conjuring up Jelly Roll Morton while digging into the ivories with a vengeance, (though his perspiring upper lip can be distracting). His many uptempos, such as I Love A Piano, I Got Rhythm, and All That Jazz, enable him to show off his piano chops, adlibbing with some Ragtime interludes to cover the full breadth of American piano composition. In Gershwin and Hammerstein’s hilarious novelty number Vodka, Nadler, revealing his comic genius, gradually feigns full inebriation, at one point standing on the piano bench without removing his hands from the keyboard. If you didn’t think he could hold back, however, Nadler surprises with a wistfully rendered Easy Street, and a touching and personal Laughing Matters, (Gallagher/Waldrop) from When Pig’s Fly, showing Nadler’s rarely seen sensitive side.

Between and sometimes during songs, Nadler banters playfully with the audience, often with an openly gay and campy sensibility, such as his introduction of Celeste Holm ("I always thought you were prettier than Cinderella, but not as pretty as the Prince."), or trying to incite a "bitch fight" between Holm’s Anna Rossini from Falconcrest, and Michele Lee’s Karen Mackenzie from Knots Landing, his arms raised like a boxing referee.

Nadler’s line-up of special guests is equally dazzling. His easy rapport with frequent performing partner KT Sullivan is amusing on Honey in the Honeycomb. Stephanie Pope, fresh off the boards from performing in the then-running Fosse, across the street, raises the roof in her duet with Nadler on All About Love/Them There Eyes. The dreamy Australian actor/cabaret performer, David Campbell, whose own cabaret shows were then one of the hottest tickets in town, sizzles, swings, and smolders in a sexy and sultry Birth of the Blues, that demands an encore. But it is the elegant, focused performance of Heather Mac Rae, whose rendition of Lost In the Stars (Weill/Anderson) rendered the room so quiet you could hear a pin drop, that makes this DVD worth the price of its purchase. That is cabaret in its purest form. His other guests, Pat Frawley, and Nancy McCall add fine moments as well. The one weak inclusion is jazz vocalist Susannah McCorkle, who seemed out of her element, and upstaged by the theatricality of the other performers on the bill. However, filmed just a year before her untimely death, it offers a glimpse of what made her such a beguiling and beloved jazz artist.

Producer/Director Fox has captured the rarefied essence of the sophisticated Manhattan boite with commendable accuracy and exquisite production values. The lighting maintains the romantic nightclub ambience without ever casting the performers in shadow. The sound is well balanced, as long as Nadler is speaking into the mike. Best of all, Fox’s multi-stationed and seamlessly edited camera work offers DVD viewers unusual vantage points, not always available from an audience seat, such Nadler’s hands at the keyboard, (which you wouldn’t want to miss) and audience facial reactions, providing a rich viewing experience, that could only be made richer by watching it with a glass of wine, and a group of your closest friends. This DVD also shows what a committed, generous, and fabulously talented performer Nadler is, and when he sings Fred Ebb’s lyric from All That Jazz, "...and Oh, I love my life," you know he means it.

by Mark Nadler

John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.

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