This celebrated one-man play about the legendary American composer who "made a lady out of jazz" returns to Boston! An evening packed with Gershwin’s most famous pieces and a glimpse into his early years, his personal life and his artistic genius.
Event Name: Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone
Article: Hershey Felder traces composer’s life in ‘George Gershwin Alone’
The Boston Globe - Jun 02, 2012
By Terry Byrne
Hershey Felder’s “George Gershwin Alone” plays like one of the composer’s memorable melodies: direct, uncomplicated, and delightful. In this...
Hershey Felder’s “George Gershwin Alone” plays like one of the composer’s memorable melodies: direct, uncomplicated, and delightful. In this solo show about the man and his music, Felder shifts easily from storytelling to performing at the piano. On the Paramount Center Mainstage, he uses Gershwin’s tunes to create transitions between biographical tales: Gershwin as a 10-year-old stickball player who becomes enchanted by music; the composer’s Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, pulled by the promise of American streets paved with gold; Al Jolson, bringing fame to the 21-year-old Gershwin with his rendition of “Swanee.”
What makes this 100-minute production more than a musical revue, however, is Felder’s fascination with Gershwin’s compositional technique. Although he’s been performing “George Gershwin Alone” for more than a decade — the show bowed on Broadway in 2001 and played the American Repertory Theater twice, in 2002 and ’03 — Felder’s admiration for the composer is obviously deeply felt. His eagerness to share his knowledge is endearing, and his educational riffs never feel pedantic.
In his program notes, Felder describes “George Gershwin Alone” as part of a Composer Sonata that includes Felder’s “Beethoven, as I Knew Him,” “Monsieur Chopin,” and “Maestro: Leonard Bernstein,” which recently completed a run at the Paramount. He describes the Gershwin segment as a rondo, “straightforward and joyful,” and that is exactly the tone he sets in this show.
“George Gershwin Alone” opens on an impressionistic set by Yael Pardess, with oversize programs, a giant mirror, and projections appearing to float near the piano at center stage. Felder begins with a brief lesson on intervals: Using “Porgy and Bess” and “Swanee” as examples, he demonstrates how the composer defied expectations for the direction of a musical progression and found hooks for his songs. When talking about “An American in Paris,” Felder displays a few of the various horns Gershwin might have sampled before finding the one that sounded most like a Parisian taxicab. Later, he mischievously makes clear that two notes Gershwin uses in “Summertime” take on an entirely new meaning when John Williams employs them for the theme to the movie “Jaws.”
Felder explores Gershwin’s personal life with stories about his impossible-to-please mother, his friend and assistant Kay Swift, his creative partner and older brother Ira, and his death at 38 from a brain tumor. He also points out Gershwin’s disappointment with the critics’ dismissal of his orchestral work, and offers a wrenching recitation of Henry Ford’s brutally anti-Semitic and racist article directed at Gershwin. But Felder never judges the composer, choosing instead to use the anecdotes to illuminate the music. The stories enrich such chestnuts as “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
Felder closes the evening with “Rhapsody in Blue” and then returns for an encore, inviting the audience to join him in “Embraceable You.” Then he takes requests — on opening night, that meant “?’S Wonderful,” “The Man I Love,” and “Summertime” — and sends a happy audience home.
Event Name: Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone
Article: Our Review: George Gershwin Alone (4.5 Stars)
Boston Events Insider - Jun 01, 2012
By Johnny Plankton
ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage presents Hershey Felder's George Gershwin Alone. Performances May 30 thru June 10, 2012 at the Paramount Center, 559...
ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage presents Hershey Felder's George Gershwin Alone. Performances May 30 thru June 10, 2012 at the Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, in Boston's Theatre District. Starring Hershey Felder; Directed by Joel Zwick; Written by Felder and Zwick.
Hershey Felder's one man show, George Gershwin Alone, brings the life and music of Gershwin to Boston in the intimate setting of the recently restored Paramount Theatre at Downtown Crossing with a terrific musical performance of one of the American Songbook's most significant and prolific contributors. The one man show chronicles the career of Gershwin from the first magical moment as a ten-year old boy playing stickball hearing his first violin performance of another ten-year old boy through his musical career and premature death at age 38 from an undiagnosed brain tumor. He and his brother Ira left behind a musical legacy that has been nearly unmatched in both popular music and theatre.
Felder tells the story in the first person as Gershwin in a living room setting onstage with the piano at the center, a composing desk off to the side and a comfy chair for guests at the far end of the stage. The stage is adorned with large photos of Gershwin and sheet music and phonograph record cover photos of his works, including Porgy and Bess and Al Jolson's Swanee. A full-sized screen at the back projects pictures of subjects that Gershwin/Felder is discussing during the performance. Felder weaves a combination of storytelling of highlights and disappointments of his life and career (including some ugly anti-Semitic press for bringing "jungle music" to popular culture and the end of his love affair with composer Kay Swift) with impressions of his parents, collaborators, and contemporaries - and music.
Felder conducted exhaustive research in developing the show, speaking with family members, biographers and Gershwin intimates, and purchased the rights to do the show from the composer's estate. Felder developed the persona for Gershwin by using old radio archives to recreate Gershwin's voice; and used songs, letters and conversations to recreate the life and times of the composer. Feldman's delivery is often reminiscent of a vaudeville era Borscht Belt comedian, or for a modern reference, like a Martin Short character from the Second City TV or Saturday Night Live shows of older, schticky Jewish entertainers.
But it's the music that drives the show. Felder is an accomplished and spirited piano player as brilliantly evidenced by his full throttle rendition of Rhapsody in Blue at the show's faux close. Those who don't think they're familiar with Gershwin's work will be surprised at the number of songs they actually are familiar with, beginning with "Swanee," his first hit (at age twenty) recorded by Jolson. He also details how he conceived "Rhapsody in Blue," (my personal favorite piece of American music) on a train ride to Boston from New York.
Those expecting a piano recital of Gershwin's greatest hits may be a little disappointed, as Felder instead plays only snatches of some tunes while explaining how he came up with the musical structure or melody of the piece in lieu of note-for-note performances, but there are plenty of full on numbers including "The Man I Love," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "I Got Rhythm," "S'Wonderful," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" in addition to selections from "An American in Paris" and of course, "Porgy and Bess."
The show appears to close with a masterful piano-only version of "Rhapsody in Blue," before Felder returns and engages the audience in a sing-a-long with three or four Gershwin favorites, something that the composer did regularly after his performances. He also randomly chose a member of the audience to sing on stage, and on this night brought up a trained and talented singer which he swore "was not a plant in the audience." The audience responded with a rousing standing ovation at both the conclusion of the show and after the sing-a-long. You don't have to be an aficionado of Gershwin's music to appreciate this show, as the man and his lyricist brother were one of the most brilliant songwriting teams America has ever produced and Felder is a terrific singer and player.
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