Friday, October 16, 2015

theatre review - HERSHEY FELDER AS IRVING BERLIN - Arizona Theatre Company - October 15, 2015

Hershey Felder
photo: 88 Entertainment
Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 25th.

From classic songs like "White Christmas" to "God Bless America," Irving Berlin has written some of the most beloved and well-known songs in the American Songbook. The latest part of Hershey Felder's "Composer Sonata," this one-man show brings Berlin to vibrant life, telling the very personal story of Berlin's rise from poor, immigrant Jew to world famous composer. This Arizona Theatre Company production takes us along on Berlin's life journey and features dozens of his most famous songs, plus a few of his lesser known tunes as well. It is a magical trip touching upon many highlights in the life of this man who wrote for the people and Felder is nothing short of brilliant in his ability to portray not only Berlin but numerous people in Berlin's life....Highlights include a stirring rendition of "What'll I Do?" when talking about his mother's death and an incredibly moving take on "Suppertime," the song Berlin wrote in 1933 about a woman's response to news of her husband's lynching, where Felder channels Ethel Waters who introduced the song. But there are also happier moments, as he talks about how Berlin wrote "Blue Skies" as a gift for his new born daughter, with Felder singing a sweet version of the song. While the hour and forty-five minute one-act play does bog down just a bit toward the end, it doesn't really contain any moments that go on for too long and does have a sweet and poignant ending. ...(Felder) plays dozens of people, from Berlin's family members to Ethel Waters, Florenz Ziegfeld, Ethel Merman, and Berlin at various stages of his life, using a unique ability to realistically morph between the different people he is portraying. He also plays the piano, which he is incredibly skilled at, and sings dozens of Berlin tunes, all with an impeccable flair and style. This is an exceptionally gifted and skilled performance full of moving moments, comical touches, and a refined sense of showmanship. Director Trevor Hay has staged the play quite effectively...Andrew Wilder's unobtrusive projections add another element to the show. From large background pictures of Czarist Russia, where Berlin was born, to photos of the people in his life and video clips from the films he contributed to, the images seamlessly change throughout, and help set the place and time of the various moments as well as show us the people in Berlin's life...Irving Berlin was an incredibly gifted composer with a rich life story. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin includes dozens of Berlin's best known songs, and with a stirring portrayal of the man by Felder and impressive creative components, it is a moving tribute to one of the world's most talented songwriters." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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