Though the title may not be official, Mark Nadler is definitely "the wild man of cabaret." During the course of his periodic "parties at Sardi's" over the past few years, the Iowa native has literally leapt off his piano bench, tap danced in paint-splattered sneakers, and consumed numerous alcoholic drinks while singing and playing an astounding array of songs from ragtime to Ragtime. And although his new show is called The Wildest Party, it is actually a somewhat more subdued Nadler on the stage of Arci's Place, where he will close out his current run with two more Tuesday performances on September 19 and 26. True, he mixes a perfect martini onstage and does a mean Charleston; but, for the most part, this 80-minute act is a remarkably thoughtful journey through the songs and personalities of the Roaring Twenties.
"My inspiration for this show, which I first did in July, was the two musicals called The Wild Party," says Nadler. "I adored both shows. When they weren't successful, I felt it was because people didn't get what the 1920s were all about. And I wanted to change that." So, what we were the '20s all about? "Sex, drugs, and alcohol," responds Nadler, who indeed has made those three pursuits the theme of his show.
"These are things I had to do a lot of research for," he adds with a laugh, but the quip has more than a little truth to it. "I did research at the Library for the Performing Arts," Nadler notes, "and I asked colleagues for ideas. I had my feelers out. Finding the material kicked my butt--but I loved it." The era of prohibition and free love is well expressed in the show through such standards as "Let's Do It," "Love For Sale," and "Minnie the Moocher", humorous numbers like "Say It With Liquor," and songs by Berlin, Brecht, and early Gershwin. "Of the whole show, I had only done two of those songs before," Nadler points out.
In discovering the music of the period, he also discovered a lot of fascinating stories--which he happily shares with the audience--about the era's leading personalities, including Libby Holman and Mae West. "The show turned out to be very gossipy, which is fun," says Nadler, who found that he relished the challenge of a scripted act.
No matter how well received The Wildest Party has been, the show is going into retirement--at least temporarily. In mid-October, Nadler and his good friend KT Sullivan will bring a revised version of their all-Gershwin theater piece, American Rhapsody, to the Triad, where it will play Thursdays through Sundays. Says Nadler, "We created it as a concert for the Gershwin centennial, but it's still going! This version is very different from the first one: It's only two hours long, there are more stories about the Gershwins, and we've replaced some of the less accessible songs. But I still do all the classical stuff: Rhapsody In Blue, An American in Paris, the Concerto in F. I am really proud of the show."