BWW Reviews: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2014: MARK NADLER: RUNNIN' WILD Sees the Return of Adelaide's Most Loved Cabaret Star
Reviewed Wednesday 18th June, 2014
Mark Nadler is the "patron saint" of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, leaving a trail of new friends and goodwill behind him wherever he goes. His show, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, that had its world premiere here two years ago, was nominated for a Helpmann Award. It also won accolades and awards around the world. His latest performance, Runnin' Wild, is guaranteed to win him more fans. Aside from a plethora of great songs, his stories that run throughout the show are fascinating, funny, poignant, and personal. Nadler is a master of the art of Cabaret.
The mere mention of his name in the introduction brought forth applause that redoubled as he entered. His smile alone, coupled with the anticipation of everybody who has seen him before, was enough to have the whole audience eating out of the palm of his hands before he uttered a word. Whatever the people there were expecting, what they got was exceptional.
After putting his violin case down on the piano, he launches into a medley of Let's Misbehave, Let's Do It, and Runnin' Wild. Didn't everybody carry something hidden in a violin case in the 20s? We will discover what the contents of this case are a bit later. These opening numbers give Nadler a chance to show his cheeky side as he negotiates the often suggestive lyrics in these, and many of the other songs. The audience loved it.
Nadler points out that the 1920s were about sex, drugs, and alcohol, particularly alcohol as prohibition had made it illegal and so, of course, sales skyrocketed thanks to the speakeasies that sprang up everywhere, and the criminal gangs that supplied the booze. He explains that the Roaring Twenties ran more than a decade, ending in 1933 with the repeal of prohibition. Throughout the performance Nadler introduces the stories of some of the fascinating and outlandish people of the time and links them to songs, tying everything together in a way that almost makes you feel that you might have been there and met these people. He is a great storyteller, his tales showing how much research he has put into the narrative.
Nadler was accompanied by Sophia MacRae on clarinet, dressed in a red flapper dress, and Rob Chenoweth on trumpet. Nadler had written all of the arrangements for the performance and it was interesting to hear MacRae says later that the parts for clarinet and trumpet were "sheer genius". That is not something that musicians say very often, generally quite the reverse. Nadler was impeccably dressed, as always, and his piano playing makes the instrument sound like a full orchestra. He doesn't just sing a song, he turns it into a story and reinvents the whole thing through his remarkable arrangements. Just to put the cherry on the cake, he also dances while he is playing and singing.
It takes no time at all for Nadler to get the audience involved, explaining how Cab Calloway took the lesser known Willy the Weeper and turned it into his big hit, Minnie the Moocher, getting us to repeat the 'shouts'. That proved to be a good idea, with the entire audience participating enthusiastically. We learned about the lifestyle of Clara Bow, the 'IT' girl, and of little Debbie Tink, the neighbour when he a young boy, whose mother was a religious fanatic. Could the curse of Kathie Tink be real? On the education front, we now all know how to make the perfect Martini.
The Roaring Twenties were not restricted to America. Via the drug dealer, Billie 'Brilliant' Chang, we head to London for Limehouse Nights and Limehouse Blues, as well as visiting Germany for a medley from the Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera. One great song followed another including Love for Sale, by John Green, and Body and Soul, and Primitive Man, both by Cole Porter. The stories flowed, too, from the drag artist, Jean Malin, to Libby Holman, accused of murder. Sadly, it was overt all too quickly, but what a better choice could there be to close a show about debauchery than Irving Berlin's Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil?
Mark Nadler is also running his ever popular Broadway Hootenanny every night until Saturday in the Banquet Room, renamed the Backstage Club during the Festival. His guests are drawn from the many participants who have their own shows in the Festival.