URBANITE – Hershey Felder
The Power of a Singular Performance
By: Kristen Oliveri
For any actor, the thought of being onstage for over 90 minutes without a single interruption or moment of reprieve might send some into a tailspin; others a fit of rage. But for Hershey Felder, performing alone in a one man show is precisely what performing is all about. On June 6th, Felder filled New York’s Town Hall for a one-night only performance to captivate audiences with his portrayal of America’s beloved composer and songwriter, Irving Berlin. The production is based on the book by Felder for which he has performed the show throughout dozens of theaters across the US and globally. This isn’t Felder’s first attempt in taking on an iconic musical figure, embodying his personal life as well as his life’s work. He tackled yet another great of the musical community—George Gershwin in a production aptly titled George Gershwin Alone that was on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theater. After already perfecting Gershwin, he set his sights on Irving Berlin to tell the story of a young male immigrant growing up in the early 20th century in New York City. He found his way professionally in a tumultuous time filled with war and economic distress to ultimately reach the pinnacle of success as a songwriter.
Felder marvels us, throughout his portrayal of Berlin, playing the piano and engaging the audience to sing along with Berlin’s classics such as God Bless America and Always. But it wasn’t just for a song or two that Felder engaged the audience—it was throughout his entire performance. He reeled us in from the very first moment with an older version of Berlin, then initiating his story as a wide-eyed young man in America who began as a singing/writing waiter. He weaves Berlin’s tale delicately, letting his story unfold in stages, showcasing the elegance of his songwriting while also identifying the progression of his personal life and how intimately that was intertwined with his artistic work.
In terms of the scope of Berlin’s labor, his catalogue was simply remarkable for those who may not have been as familiar with his career. He had written over 1500 songs, worked on 18 Broadway shows, 16 feature films and produced countless radio hits. Felder, as a performer, dug down deep to portray such a heavyweight in American music and theater and did so with grace and humility. The set, also designed by Felder, brought the audience into Berlin’s living room during the holidays. The large Christmas tree along with a warm, homey atmosphere not only connected the audience to Berlin, but also made them feel as if they were part of his family. As for Felder on a personal note, he is marching onward. He’ll take to the stage once again beginning on September 11th in Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro. The play, featuring music and songs from West Side Story, Candide and Wonderful Town, will be directed by Joel Zwick at 59E59 Theaters and will run through October.