There aren’t many performers who could take a quirky, obscure patter song that made a star out of Danny Kaye and turn it into an entire evening’s entertainment, but then, Mark Nadler is not your typical performer. Best known as a New York cabaret singer and pianist, Nadler is hoping to take this ninety-minute pseudo-music appreciation lesson based on Kurt Weill’s “Tchaikovsky (and Other Russians)” from his 1941 “Lady in the Dark” to Broadway next fall, although how many tourists will even know —let alone care—who Danny Kaye is, to say nothing of Weill and his lyricist, in this case, Ira Gershwin, would make such a potential enterprise suspect, at best. Could Nadler’s performance rescue such a trite concept? Unfortunately, “nyet.” Not that he doesn’t try. The guy would probably wear a lampshade on his head if the audience asked him to, but you can’t put on an interactive show with pre-programmed responses based on a very specific and personal aesthetic that would have been old (hence the joke of the song, even back then) more than sixty years ago. Of the forty-nine Russian, Slavic and Polish mostly mercifully long-forgotten composers mentioned in the song, Nadler proceeds, believe it or not, to attempt to pound out—often literally—a few bars of music from each and every one of them and offer his own judgment on the worth of same. This leads to a string of anecdotes and analyses that are often based on rumor, innuendo and in some cases, downright error—it was French composer Ravel, not Russian Stravinsky, who told Gershwin when he approached him for lessons that given what George was getting for his songs, perhaps Ravel should study with him, though the story was often attributed to Stravinsky, who denied it numerous times and was perpetually irritated at the attribution since he saw little worth in Gershwin’s music. Along the way there are mostly obscure show tunes that are heard in their entirety that have nothing to do with the Russian theme even though we seldom get more than a few measures of any of the composers mentioned, and when we do, Nadler stops in the middle and says, “Isn’t that beautiful?” Unfortunately, we’ll never know. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, (312)988-9000. This production is now closed.