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Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2006 | George Gershwin. Maybe you grew up hearing your parents or grandparents play his music. Maybe you fell in love with “Porgy and Bess.” Maybe you don’t know a thing about Gershwin’s music, except for the music in the United Airlines commercials. It doesn’t matter. “Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone” is a must-see regardless of your prior Gershwin experience.
“Alone,” running at the Old Globe through Oct. 22, has enjoyed snowballing success with a year-long run in Chicago as well as performances from Broadway to London’s West End. To date, the show has been performed over 2,500 times. In the show, Hershey Felder portrays the esteemed George Gershwin, giving the audience a unique look at the man and composer while performing some of his most loved work.
Felder is a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of all. Watching his performance gives you the feeling that you are at a piano concert, a stage-musical and watching a filmed biography all at once.
Felder, who is also the playwright of “Alone,” keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. When he’s not describing/performing interesting details out of Gershwin’s life, he’s at the piano, explaining note progressions and peculiarities incorporated in Gershwin’s compositions. Felder stays in character, which is fascinating to watch because he’s not always being Gershwin. He sometimes acts as narrator but the transition between the two is smooth.
Smooth doesn’t even begin to describe the charm and character Felder possesses and uses to flesh out Gershwin. Felder even bears an uncanny resemblance to George, as showcased by the photos of Gershwin projected onto the backdrop.
The set is sparse; consisting of a piano, a desk stacked with music composition books, a lamp and some chairs – nothing to take your focus off of the man onstage. The piano is at an angle, but if you’re not in a section behind Felder to watch his hands as he plays, there’s a mirror hanging cleverly above him to show the reflection of the keys. The use of lighting enhances the transitions in the storytelling.
As Gershwin, Felder explains some of the keys and chords used for different songs, how he used jazz as an element to create compositions in theater, classical and even opera that were like no other and embraced the American spirit. Felder tells of how George and his lyricist brother Ira worked closely together, and how George lost everything when critics denounced his opera “Porgy and Bess.” Felder’s presentation is performance art, mastered. He skillfully plays piano, acting and singing at the same time. He sings both parts in a duet from “Porgy” that will bring tears to your eyes for sheer emotion.
“Alone” has become known, likely through word-of-mouth and production travels, for its encore act. The main show ends with the lights on Gershwin, slowly fading into a single spotlight as he performs the favorite “Rhapsody in Blue,” but the curtain does not fall. Gershwin (as Felder tells us he was apt to do) runs off the stage, the lights go down and Felder returns. In costume, (for he tells the audience later that he’s a “blonde on the outside” world) he slowly breaks character and addresses the audience about the music. Having heard of this “third act,” I knew something was coming. I don’t want to be the one to divulge all of the fun, so suffice it to say that the audience becomes a part of the show and the results bring down the house. S’Wonderful!
“Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone,” plays at the Old Globe Theatre through Oct. 22, 2006. Tickets available through box office:(619) 331-1941, or online at www.theoldglobe.org.