Hershey Felder in Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein - Review



October 10th was opening night of this new World Premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood Village, and it was a packed house. When Hershey Felder appeared onstage, the audience applauded wildly. It seemed a bit of a surprise, since many people probably don’t know his name. However, fans of Hershey’s have seen him bring to life several musical legends of the past. Felder, a consummate actor-pianist, has done a trilogy of notable one-man shows celebrating his musical successors : “George Gershwin Alone,” “Monsieur Chopin” and “Beethoven, As I Knew Him.”

Now Felder celebrates a more contemporary personage and one of America's greatest musicians – Leonard Bernstein, conductor, composer, pianist, author, teacher, librettist, and television star.

At the beginning of the piece, we learn about Bernstein’s childhood, especially his tough father who wasn’t happy about his son’s musical interest. Young Leonard took to the piano when his meshugana aunt moved out of Boston and left her piano at the Bernstein house. His father, only interested in the Talmud and money, didn’t want it in the living room – so it was placed in a hallway, where Leonard discovered his love for it. His disapproving dad warned him that there was no future in music, and he wouldn’t even give his son $3 for lessons from a better teacher when the boy’s first teacher said he had outgrown her. So in order to pay for his own lessons, Leonard went out and taught other kids. Later, he went to Harvard and was one of the few Jewish students there – and in music class, yet!

Felder takes us through all of Leonard Bernstein’s mentors and loves, sometimes the same – and we hear how they each shaped his future from composer to conductor, from concerts in school to Carnegie Hall to West Side Story fame.

Bernstein loved the classics, and learned from the masters, including his mentor , Serge Koussevitzky. Leonard loved the “love” in music, and Hershey shares that with the audience. Whenever he plays the piano, it is exhilarating, uplifting and sheer pleasure. It is also beautifully nostalgic. It brought me memories of my mother playing the piano when I was young. It reminded me of my parents bringing home the album to West Side Story, and how I danced around the living room to it!

Felder as Bernstein tells the story of the maestro’s life with passion and poise, with angst and love. He had a complicated life, falling for men – but wanting a family, marrying a woman he loved, and having children he loved – then leaving them for another man.

Bernstein was a brilliant talent and recognized as so by millions around the globe. Yet, he never got what he truly wanted – to compose his own quintessential symphony for which he would be remembered.

In his one-man show, Hershey Felder is warm, witty, and riveting through the entire performance. It is one and a half hours filled with splendid music, deep emotions, and lots of love.

The set is simple but intriguing as images are projected on the screen behind him. There we see photos of Bernstein’s actual audiences; some of the maestro himself; and some of his mentors, loves, and his wife, Felicia, who passed away after he returned to her, following a failed relationship with a male lover.

The show ends with one of Bernstein’s legacies, “One Hand, One Heart” – the hauntingly beautiful melody that ended his most famous work, and the piece that changed musical theater history – West Side Story.

Leonard Bernstein was the longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic, and ultimately became known as the world’s musical ambassador. He was the first classical music conductor to make numerous television appearances and made the classics accessible through the legendary show, Omnibus, and the renowned Young People’s Concerts. His other musicals included On the Town, Wonderful Town and Candide.

Just as Bernstein made classical music accessible, Hershey Felder has made the lives of musical legends accessible – Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven… and with this new world premiere – Leonard Bernstein.

The show was directed by Joel Zwick, who successfully collaborated with Felder on his earlier one-man projects. Zwick is well known as the director of the hugely successful film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Hershey Felder in Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein plays at 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2 and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The show ends Dec. 12th. Tickets are $35 to $85.

Geffen Playhouse
10 886 Le Conte Ave
Westwood Village
Los Angeles , CA 90024
310-208-5454
www.geffenplayhouse.com

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