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Those who have followed the development of Hershey Felder's one-man show through its various incarnations will be best pleased with last night's premiere at the Tiffany Theatre. It will run there only until June 25th but productions are pending in Chicago and New York.
George Gershwin Alone
Written and performed by Felder, it's directed with a deft feel for its nuances by Broadway musical veteran Joel Zwick. The same care applies to Felder's costume, designed by Holly Poe Durbin, right down to the pin-striped suit and spats. The set, designed by Yael Pardess, gives the impression of taking place in Gershwin's memory and features paintings by Gershwin of himself, his mother, and grandfather, with projections of photos and posters at appropriate plot points.
The show is now less words and has more music, which may be a result of what the press release describes as a Gershwin heir-imposed development process.
The music is strung on the slenderest of narrative strings with Mama Rose characterized as an overbearing anecdote who revised the Porgy and Bess costumes from something that looks like they're coming from a Bar Mitzvah to rags which she collected from the lower East Side street vendors. Papa Gershwin comes off as a quiet, gentle man who tried to back up his sons without incurring his wife's wrath.
The parents are full-blooded characterizations compared to brother Ira who is nothing more than a credit and the one who advised George that the contract came before the words and the music. Kay Swift, depicted as the woman George loved and lost, is defined merely by her bio as critic's daughter and collaborator on Porgy and Bess.
Felder, does make the most of what he has or has been allowed to have. A skilled actor and award-winning concert pianist, he manages to convey Gershwin's legendary drive and humor. He has a big voice. His playing, despite a few clunkers (understandable in a show like this) interprets the music with passion, sensitivity and flair. He sings the songs well, bravely essaying Porgy and Bess in a voice that has volume and pitch, if not the full operatic tone needed for the culminating notes.
We also get segments and fragments of such show tunes as "I've Got Rhythm", "Embraceable You", "But Not For Me", as well as a few minutes of the piano concerto "An American In Paris" plus a bravura finale of "Rhapsody in Blue".
The show's special plus comes from the gleeful insights into Gershwin's musical structures. Felder tells us triumphantly that anybody else would have left "Swanee" in a minor key and how the love in Bess's duet with Porgy draws a response from a left-handed trio that echoes Porgy's beating heart.
Though this is a little like those explanations your high school music teacher used to give, it's rewarding for, as Felder's script lets us know, it took a long time for educators and critics to take Gershwin seriously.
Felder sadly quotes the devastating reviews for Porgy and Bess, now considered an American classic. Even more appalling is an article written by motor magnate Henry Ford denigrating the Jewish and African influences in American music. Gershwin's last boss, Samuel Goldwyn was a musical ignoramus and may have dealt the unkindest cut of all when he told Gershwin he would never get anywhere unless he wrote tunes people could whistle.
Gershwin died suddenly of a brain tumor at the age of 38.
Those who love the scope and beauty of his music will thank Hershey Felder for a highly enjoyable evening and for his persistence in seeing that George Gershwin is not alone.
|GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE
by Hershey Felder
Directed by Joel Zwick
Starring Hershey Felder
Set Design: Yael Pardess
Lighting and Projection Design: Marianne Schneller
Costume Design: Holly Poe Durbin
Sound Design: Jon Gottlieb
Running Time: 90 Minutes without Intermission
Tiffany Theatre, 8532 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood, 310-289-2999
From June 7, 2000- June 25, 2000. Official Opening Date: June 7.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on June 9, 2000.
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