When the amazing Mark Nadler performs, I never fail to find myself thinking about the talent/luck equation. If x (talent) + y (luck) = Big Star, how are x and y measured? Is x regularly bigger than y? You'd think it would be or should be, but considering the myriad no-talents or modicum-talents with significant reputations abounding nowadays, that theory doesn't hold so firmly.
The answer, of course, is that x and y undoubtedly differ according to the individual and will never be, and can never be, quantified. In Nadler's case, the x is extremely large and the y is apparently not nearly large enough. Which isn't to say that the outstandingly outrageous and outrageously outstanding entertainer hasn't achieved a notable success. At the moment and as he has been for many years, he's one of few performers appearing regularly in the (too frequently denigrated) cabaret field actually earning a living at the endeavor.
Working constantly in New York City as well as across the country and the Pond, Nadler is known but not in the way, say, Al Jolson or Danny Kaye or Victor Borge or Jerry Lee Lewis -- all of whom he resembles in one way or another -- were or are known and celebrated. That's to say, he's not a household word when he should be. After all, he's as brazenly self-aggrandizing as Jolson could be, as delightfully hyper as Kaye often presented himself, as gifted and goofy at the piano as Borge habitually was, and as piano-rockin' as Lewis couldn't stop himself from being.
Then what's held Nadler back from consistently landing major bookings? Is it that he arrived at a time when Jolson, Kaye, Borge and Lewis represent show-biz acclaim of a prior era. Maybe, but maybe not. After all, that talent will out should operate in any age, shouldn't it? Is it that, as many have said about him, he comes on too strong? Maybe, but maybe not. Did anyone ever come on stronger than Jolson, whom audiences ate up with a spoon? Is it that there's no one quite like him around now, and consequently there's no easy way to connect him to a wider public? (Elton John may come closest, but he's also a pop-tune composer, which is one thing Nadler doesn't claim to be.) Maybe his uncategorizability does account for the oversight, but maybe not. Nadler's uniqueness should be a prime selling point.
Okay, I throw my hands up and can only say that Nadler's current show, "Crazy 1961," which he reprises twice more (January 15 and 22) at Manhattan's Laurie Beechman Theatre, is yet another in his highly diverting, cagily intelligent enterprises. It may not be entirely at the level of his "Tschaikowsky (And Other Russians)" -- during which he takes the famous Danny Kaye list song of composers and spins comedy and information from it. All the same, this one's non-stop fun, too.
The premise is that, born October 14, 1961, Nadler has now turned 50 and is wondering about everything that happened of any consequence during that miraculous year. Nothing seems to escape his coverage, including the sending of a chimp into space, civil rights demonstrations, the hit parade and the details of his own arrival. The latter include mentioning that his conception came about as the result of a broken condom, or so his father later informed him. Nor does Nadler stop there with the intimate disclosures, which extend to his deliberately delayed delivery (superstitious Mom didn't want to give birth on Friday 13) and his resulting life as a gay man.
(In the age of Elton John, upfront at the 2012 Golden Globes with hubby David Furnish, don't say gayness is a career-deterrent.)
Tying songs into the 1961 topics he raises, the tall, thin, tirelessly kinetic, somewhat-George Gershwin-look-a-like Nadler kick-starts himself (and I think I mean with literal kicks) on a "Once in a Lifetime"/"Comes Once in a Lifetime" medley that stokes the fires of those who think it's manic behavior that's stalled him. He knows the criticism so well that he segues into "Hey, Jimmy, Joe, John, Jim, Jack," a forgotten song from the forgotten musical "Let It Ride," about the advisability of tooting one's own horn loudly.
He also knows it behooves him to demonstrate he can be restrained and, after a rousing "Cruella De Vil," he pulls way back to a sweet "This is Dedicated to the One I Love." Noting that 1961 is the year body-mikes came to Broadway (from whence he plucks many of his inclusions), he recalls the body-miked Anna Maria Alberghetti with "Carnival"'s 'Love Makes the World Go 'Round," which melts into Noel Coward's "Sail Away" advisory.
Before getting to a fifty 1961 hits medley followed by the most important one he's left out, "Moon River," he sings, among several well-chosen others, Gilbert Becaud's "Et Maintenant" only in French because he dislikes the English translation. He goes "Crazy," because he says he kinda is. Incidentally, the entire set has him at the piano, along with guitarist Scott Johnson, bassist Robert Sabin, drummer Barbara Merjan and Dan Willis on reeds and flute, and maybe it's fronting this hip band that'll make an improved-gigs difference for him.
By the time Nadler finishes, he's shown he has it all -- with one exception: the nation-wide, not to say international, recognition he's worked all but the first two or three of his fifty years to attain and unquestionably deserves.