Space Theatre, Wed Jun 18
It seems the ‘60s and ‘70s weren’t the only decades of the last century characterised by a penchant for sex and drugs. Supplant rock ‘n’ roll with jazz, add alcohol, and you have the key ingredients that earned the twenties the ‘roaring’ tag. Mark Nadler takes us back nearly a century and paints an instructive and entertaining picture of a time that surprisingly includes reference to people that are still household names – names like Mae West, Oscar Hammerstein, and Eddie Cantor. I love that I learnt more in this 90-minute show than I’d pick up from a book or course about the 1920s and I found myself thinking this would be a great way to study history. The adult themes might be a stretch for schools however!
Nadler is the consummate entertainer. From the first tinkling of the ivories he had the audience enthralled. Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave sets an upbeat mood and Nadler invites his audience to revel in the wild and the reckless. He shares stories of characters that have pushed the boundaries of the time to the limit in the Speakeasies of the US, the opium dens of London, and the clubs of Germany. His version of Limehouse Blues is a dreamy arrangement sung by someone in a fog of opium, but most of the songs are lively, occasionally manic, and lots of fun.
Nadler is not just a fine singer; he inhabits these songs with total conviction. His vocal delivery is laden with emotion – be it joy, sadness or pathos. Breathy and vulnerable one minute, raucous and outrageous the next – it all helps us become immersed in the lives and values of the characters of the time.
There’s a curious tension in this show though. On the one hand Nadler is celebrating those who drank, took drugs and got laid as harmless, carefree, even laudable exploits for a populace just free of war and suffering the restrictions of prohibition. But we also learn that each of his wild characters came to untimely ends – punishment perhaps for their wayward lives and loose morals? Nadler has a humorous theory on this which I won’t reveal here.
Runnin’ Wild is loads of fun. Funny tales from a wild time told by a flamboyant host with a huge smile and a knack for storytelling, with some great jazz from Nadler on piano, and supporting musicians on clarinet and trumpet. Really engaging, light hearted most of the time, but with a dark side. And, yes, you will learn how to make a good Martini!
by Michael Coghlan