By Shari Goldstein Stern
Broadway Dallas (BD) may have hit the jackpot when Hershey Felder said “Yes.” Felder will bring his captivating musical artistry to the Music Hall at Fair Park Sunday, Feb. 26, at 2 p.m. for one performance only.
Sitting at a computer while chords of the remarkable George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” saturate the room is a glorious place to be if you cannot be in a theater, hearing his music live onstage. Patrons around the world might agree that if you are in the Dallas area on Feb. 26, on what will hopefully be another gorgeous Texas day, your seat at the Music Hall at Fair Park is the best place to feel the joy of Gershwin’s music in “George Gershwin Alone.” This play with music is written, produced and performed by Hershey Felder, who will bring his gift of interpreting the artist and his music in a solo show to the BD stage. The play is one of a collection of distinctive shows Felder has written and performed for almost three decades.
Felder — an actor, writer, classically trained concert pianist, composer and historian — became enamored with George Gershwin when Felder was 17. George and his lyricist brother, Ira Gershwin, collaborated on songs that have become all-American treasures. Felder has also become known for his creation of 14 classical and American composers on the theatrical stage and 18 film productions. Following 28 years of continuous stage work and more than 6,000 live performances throughout the U.S. and abroad, Felder’s shows have touched audiences on Broadway and in London’s West End as well as in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and more. This will be Felder’s first live performance in the United States in 10 years and he is bringing it to Dallas, where he last appeared 30 years ago.
A few of Felder’s solo shows are: “Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein,” “Beethoven, As I Knew Him,” “Monsieur Chopin,” “Back From Broadway” and “Hershey Felder, Our Great Tchaikovsky.” More of the great composers he has cloned are Franz Liszt, Leonard Bernstein, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Irving Berlin. The artist has given performances of his solo productions at some of the world’s most prestigious theaters and has consistently broken box office records.
According to Felder, he has given 3,000 live performances. At one time, he traveled from Los Angeles to Chicago to South Korea for 70 weeks of performances. “Audiences were so engaged they came back with their family and friends,” he said.
He was described by American Theatre Magazine as “a seductive portraitist, compelling storyteller and superb concert pianist”; his work was named among Time magazine’s 2016 Top Plays and Musicals.
Patrons can look forward to enjoying Felder performing Gershwin music from memorable films like “Lady be Good,” “Porgy and Bess,” “American in Paris,” “After Hours” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” When a fresh young American actress named Jean Louisa Kelly, playing Rowena, gazed into the puddling eyes of her teacher, Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), while singing a seductive “Someone to Watch over Me” in the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” a whole new generation discovered the powerful music of George Gershwin. Kelly did her own singing and nailed the iconic Gershwin favorite.
Among Gershwin’s more than 1,000 songs for stage and screen the world holds dear are “The Man I Love,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” “’S Wonderful,” “I Got Rhythm” and many more.
You don’t have to listen hard to recognize the resounding chords of Gershwin’s Broadway stage and touring songbook. The Gershwins’ standards have been heard in six Broadway musicals including “My One and Only,” “Crazy for You,” “The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”
Felder was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1968 to Jacob Felder, born in 1929 in Poland, and Eva Surek Felder, born in 1946 in Budapest, Hungary. He is married to A. Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada and 21 years his senior. He is a first-generation North American and much of his upbringing included Eastern European traditions, in particular traditions associated with the Jewish faith into which he was born. Early education included Hebrew Academy Day School of Montreal and through synagogue affiliations with Tiferet Beth David Jerusalem Synagogue in Cote St. Luc, Quebec.
He worked for Steven Spielberg on his Shoah Foundation, interviewing Holocaust survivors to catalog their personal history on film. He was selected as an interviewer to attend the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland, which inspired him to create “George Gershwin Alone.” His show opened Off-Broadway in April 2001.
When Felder was invited to open a production of “George Gershwin Alone” at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard, the production went on to become the highest-grossing production of any in the theater’s history.
The musician studied piano with some of the great pianists. He was educated in opera studies, conducting, accompanying and composition at McGill University in Montreal and furthered his piano studies in New York with other recognized pianists.
The artist is a former scholar-in-residence at Harvard University’s School of Music and is a former member of the board of directors of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, where he created and sponsored a classical competition titled “The Real Thing.” Felder has operated a full-service production company since 2001. Felder and Joel Zwick are recognized as full-time collaborators with Zwick directing stage work for all of Felder’s artistic projects.
“My favorite part about doing this show is interacting with the audience and celebrating the music,” he said. “There’s no substitute for a live audience. People like these characters. I have met patrons who have become lifelong friends. When I return to cities like Chicago, New York, L.A. and San Diego, they invite me into their homes. The theaters invite me back,” he added.
A PBS radio spokesperson, referring to Gershwin as a “lasting legacy,” noted, “From the opening clarinet glissando of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ to such standards as ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘Someone to Watch over Me,’ Gershwin’s music has been part of our world for almost a century. It evokes an era of glamour and sophistication and gave the United States its first authentic voice in the concert hall.”
George Gershwin was born in 1898 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn and composed his first hit at age 21. Gershwin died of an undiagnosed brain tumor in 1937, at the age of 38, leaving behind an enormous legacy of enduring music that has never dimmed in popularity.
According to Felder, Gershwin was confronted with antisemitism. “He made a ‘lady out of jazz.’ He made it to the serious concert halls. He became a target for people who hated Jews, whom they accused of being clever but conniving in filling America with ‘dirty black music.’”
The American singer Michael Feinstein has said, “The Gershwin legacy is extraordinary because George Gershwin died in 1937, but his music is as fresh and vital today as when he originally created it.”
The world owes a debt of gratitude to an inventive artist, Hershey Felder, for keeping the great George Gershwin’s memory alive, for transporting audiences to experience the rapture of his music and for ensuring that Gershwin’s glorious music remains appreciated and thriving.
For tickets and information about “George Gershwin Alone,” visit BroadwayDallas.org or call 800-982-2787.Felder brings Gershwin to Broadway Dallas