Saturday, January 19, 2008

George Gershwin Alone

Hershey Felder & George Gershwin hit the right notes at CPH

Hershey Felder has done extensive research about George Gershwin, who many consider the greatest of American popular music composers. He has used that information to create an evening of song and narration entitled ‘GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE,’ which is now on stage at the Cleveland Play House.

How biographically accurate is the script? Who knows. Gershwin died at age 38 of a brain tumor before he had reached a high enough level of fame for historians to document every phase of his life. So, we have to trust Felder as he gives us a picture of a person who felt passionately about his work. A character filled with pathos and humor and, as with many artists, self-centered.

In his brief lifetime Gershwin gave the world such songs as “The Man I Love,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "I Got Rhythm," and "They Can’t Take That Away from Me." And, then there is “Summertime,” which many musical critics consider to be the most perfect song ever written. He also created the musicals ‘AN AMERICAN IN PARIS’ and ‘PORGY AND BESS.’

Though the show, which is filled with nostalgia and humor, is billed as centering purely on the story of George Gershwin, Felder, an accomplished classical pianist with a decent singing voice, abandons the Gershwin persona about two-thirds of the way through the performance, has the lights come up in the theatre, and proceeds to ask for Gershwin requests from the audience. He then plays and sings those requests, and encourages theatre-goers to participate. He goes as far as selecting audience members to sing solos.

Scenic Designer Yael Pardess has created a beautiful and appropriate setting and Michael Gilliam’s mood lighting creates the right atmosphere.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Before he switches to the audience-centered segment of the show, Felder concludes the historical Gershwin exposition playing “Rhapsody in Blue.” It was a perfect conclusion to an evening of musical education, entertainment and recognition of a great composer. Anyone who loves music and good theatre will thoroughly enjoy ‘GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE.’