Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 24, 2017

Our Great Tchaikovsky

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through August 27, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

Hershey Felder had no trouble filling the house at Hartford Stage on a hot Tuesday night in late August for his performance of “Our Great Tchaikovsky.” Clearly many audience members had already encountered Felder from his previous plays and were primed for another impressive performance.

The show is a sensitive, informative, and at times humorous depiction of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the man and the musician. Felder not only performs many of Tchaikovsky’s most challenging pieces (a feat in itself), but, as Tchaikovsky, he is able to simultaneously speak in a perfect Russian accent to tell us about his family, his career and his romantic affairs at the same time. Steeping us into the atmosphere of mid-19th century Russia, Felder creates an intimate mood with a simple set comprised of a cozy collection of candles, rugs, and a small desk and chair where Tchaikovsky composed, all gathered around the centerpiece: a beautiful Steinway concert grand piano. In addition to the set, the sense of time and place is enhanced by projections of the various places that the story takes us: deep in the Russian woods, to various buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg, ballet performers and theatre venues - all helping us live in the world that Tchaikovsky inhabited. 

Felder’s prowess as a pianist and musician is remarkable. The joining of his own arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s music (including many of his most famous pieces: the 6th symphony, “Nutcracker Suite,” “Swan Lake,” and “Romeo and Juliet”l) performed live, and with recorded accompaniment, is true genius.

There is no intermission in this 2-hour performance, but Felder creates a respite from Tchaikovsky mid-way through the show by suddenly breaking character to address the audience as himself. Here he makes an impassioned speech regarding today’s struggles for equal rights in Russia.

Hershey Felder generously stayed after the show for a talk-back in which he left us with the following tempting morsel: his next endeavor will be Debussy in Paris during La Belle Epoque. Sounds magnificent!