Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 26, 2019

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone

Berkshire Theatre Group, Colonial Theater, Pittsfield, MA
through August 31, 2019
by Jarice Hanson

Hershey Felder is a multi-talented performer who researches the lives of some of our great composers and weaves their personal histories into tapestry of music and heart-felt storytelling and performance like no other. Seated at the Steinway piano, Felder concertizes, expounds on artistic inspiration and genius, and takes his audience by the hand and heart to better understand the music and the composers who have given us a rich cultural history of music.

In “Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone” at the Colonial Theatre, part of the Berkshire Theatre Group’s summer season, Felder examines the work of one of our greatest American composers who transcended Tin Pan Alley to crossover into opera with “Porgy and Bess”) and symphonic work, such as “Rhapsody in Blue.” From the time Gershwin started playing as an accompanist for theatrical performers at the age of fifteen, through the first sale of one of his compositions (“Swanee”) to Al Jolson at the age of twenty-one, to his untimely death at the age of thirty-eight, Gershwin composed some of the most memorable music of his day. Songs like “Fascinating Rhythm,” “S Wonderful,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” are but a few of the thousand-plus songs he penned over a short lifetime.

The Gershwin show includes some incongruous moments, such as George’s self-promoting radio show in which his tune, “The Man I Love,” and the Parisian car horns that inspired “An American in Paris backed the Feenamint commercial for laxatives.” His close relationship with his brother, Ira, the lyricist of the duo, is a prominent feature of the current show.

Photo by Mark Garvin
Felder is an accomplished musician, but his own evocative style as a pianist, singer, and raconteur shows a special understanding of genius, time in history, and understanding of the human spirit. He does not try to imitate the composers he features, but he suggests mannerisms and speech styles that are true to the subject at hand. He works with the audience to touch the right cords of emotion that help him communicate effectively, appearing to work effortlessly, but in reality, drawing on his own skill and desire to make the music of bygone artists accessible and meaningful for a contemporary audience. Watching his concentration at the piano is a moving experience, and the beauty he creates with “Rhapsody in Blue” brought tears of emotion to many in the audience.

Whether you love the American Songbook, or just appreciate an artist at the top of his game, you owe it to yourself to see Hershey Felder in action. There is an honesty and artistry in every moment of a Hershey Felder production.