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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Life + Arts

Alley Theatre portrays ‘Gershwin Alone’


felder

Hershey Felder portrays George Gershwin, the composer of classics like “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris.” | Courtesy of Alley Theatre

After enjoying various runs, including a 2001 Broadway season, one-man show “George Gershwin Alone,” featuring playwright, pianist and actor Hershey Felder, reached the Alley Theatre on June 3.

Running until June 21, it’s likely that attendees are already familiar with legendary composer George Gershwin’s music and can hum his “Summertime” aria.

That should not deter the non-musical person from absorbing Felder’s portrayal of an enthusiastic composer who sought constant innovation and experimentation.

With the piano as his whim and a keen singing voice, Felder conveys the progression of musical development in the first 90 minutes of the performance.

His score starts with a repetition of simple keys that construct a humming tune, then accelerate with complex hand movements. Even if musical jargon confuses you, Felder, the ever-cool music instructor, guides you through by playing the undeveloped samples of the music.

Some of his biggest musical influences are the cacophony of car horns or the churning of train wheels, which Felder demonstrates. Sometimes, he plays along to ancient recordings of his music.

Gershwin’s attitude toward critics, in what he calls “a love affair,” adds charm to the music-filled play. His critics bother and fascinate him; he veers into various registers of music to the point where critics deride him for knowing no distinction between opera, jazz or conventional Broadway tunes. Felder never says this explicitly, but he leaves the audience to interpret this as an accidental compliment. After all, Gershwin’s ingenuity lies in his desire to mix genres of music together.

Perhaps playing off of shortcomings throughout Gershwin’s life make Felder’s performance an enigma. Playing up the controversy of his life would have bogged the play down. He’s a man who wants to focus on the finer moments rather ramble about the less savory aspects of his life.

The biases are relatable rather than reprehensible, because we understand Gershwin wants to pass over the uncomfortable moments so he can make room for the good and focus on advancing music.

After the play, Felder conducts a sing-a-long with the audience to test their knowledge of the material. Although Felder fed everyone the lyrics, they all could not keep up. Felder is the one who kept up with Gershwin all these years.

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