Review of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, Directed by Trevor Hay, performance at The Town Hall on June 6, 2016

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By Diane DiResta

I wrote for love, I wrote for my country, I wrote for you”. That was the opening line by Hershey Felder who played composer, Irving Berlin. This one man play was performed at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, June 6th in New York City and directed by Trevor Hay. The running time was two hours without intermission.

The story unfolds with Berlin’s younger self talking to his older 101 year old self as represented by his wheelchair. He takes the audience on a journey from his arrival as Israel Isidore Bailin an immigrant living in a tenement, through meeting a young wealthy 21 year old woman who defies her father and marries Berlin. The audience experiences his personal life and music career set against a backdrop of history including World War II and the stock market crash of 1929. The highlights of the times are projected on the wall with film clips of luminaries the likes of Fred Astaire and always in conjunction with Irving Berlin’s songs which punctuate the entire 20th century.

As Mr. Felder recounts his stories he plays the piano and sings Berlin’s top hits such as Alexander’s Rag Time Band, Always, There’s No Business Like Show Business, God Bless America, White Christmas and Easter Parade. He creates magical moments as he invites the audience to sing acapella. The audience was thrilled and so was Felder.

“I am thrilled to return to Town Hall,” says Felder – “a stage replete with history – to perform the role of Irving Berlin on the same stage where I last brought Maestro Leonard Bernstein to life. To be able to create the character of Irving Berlin – America’s most beloved composer, in his home town – around the corner from his beloved Music Box theatre, in a musical story that reminds us all of this incredible country, and the remarkable people who built it, is truly an honor.”

A post-show reception at Sardi’s restaurant followed at the theatre.

 

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The story and music of America’s Composer come to life on stage when The Town Hall presents Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, a new play with music written and performed by award-winning actor and musician Hershey Felder (Broadway’s George Gershwin Alone, Maestro Bernstein). Directed by Trevor Hay, Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin plays one night only, tonight, Monday, June 6 at 8PM at The Town Hall (123 West 43rd Street).
The Town Hall engagement marks the New York premiere of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, which has previously played to rave reviews and broken box office records at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, Chicago’s Royal George Theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse and Boston’s Majestic Theatre. Future engagements are planned throughout the United States. David C. Nichols of The Los Angeles Times wrote “that indefatigable purveyor of composers, Hershey Felder, applies his singular blend of musical biography, character study and piano virtuosity toward the iconic songwriter. The empathy, showmanship and craft on tap may just be the best match of historical figure and performing artist yet.”Chris Jones writing in The Chicago Tribune raved “Felder is the impresario whose relationship with audiences is long-standing, intimate and mutually adoring. Felder does his good guy proud.”
Jerome Kern famously said “Irving Berlin has no place in American music-he is American music.” George Gershwin called him “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.” Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin brings the man behind the iconic music to life in an evening reflecting his remarkable journey from child immigrant to America’s most beloved and prolific songwriter.  From Tin Pan Alley to Carnegie Hall, from The Great White Way to The Silver Screen, and from the pop charts to the steps of the nation’s capital, Berlin’s music provided America with the soundtrack of a century. Berlin’s catalogue includes over 1,500 songs, 18 Broadway shows 16 feature films 232 top-10 hits, and 10 #1 hits. Berlin’s songs have been performed by a diverse list of artists including: Fred Astaire, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Merman, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney Elvis Presley, Luciano Pavarotti, Ella Fitzgerald Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Barbra Streisand, Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin features the some of the composer’s most popular and enduring songs including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “God Bless America,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “White Christmas.”
“I am thrilled to return to Town Hall,” says Felder – “a stage replete with history – to perform the role of Irving Berlin on the same stage where I last brought Maestro Leonard Bernstein to life. To be able to create the character of Irving Berlin – America’s most beloved composer, in his home town – around the corner from his beloved Music Box theatre, in a musical story that reminds us all of this incredible country, and the remarkable people who built it, is truly an honor.”
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin features a scenic design by Felder, lighting design by Richard Norwood, projection design by Christopher Ash and Lawrence Siefert, and sound design/production management by Erik Carstensen. The show is produced by Eva Price, Samantha F. Voxakis and Karen Racanelli.
 
LISTINGS INFORMATION: Hershey Felder as Irving Berlinplays one night only, Monday, June 6 at 8PM at The Town Hall (123 West 43rdStreet.) Tickets are on sale at The Town Hall Box Office, 123 West 43rd Street, (noon-6pm, Mon-Fri) and Ticketmaster.com, (800) 982-2787. Tickets range from $55-$65.
 
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
HERSHEY FELDER(Irving Berlin/Playwright/Scenic Design). Writing in American Theatre, Hedy Weiss said, “Hershey Felder is in a category all his own.” Over the past 20 years he has played over 4,500 performances of his self-created solo productions at the some of the world’s most prestigious theatres and has broken box office records consistently. His shows include: George Gershwin Alone (Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, West End’s Duchess Theatre); Monsieur Chopin; Beethoven; Maestro (Leonard Bernstein); Franz Liszt in Musik and Lincoln: An American Story. In addition, he performs concerts of “The Great American Song Book Singalong” at every theatre where his shows are presented. Future productions include Tchaikovsky (January 2017 premiere at the San Diego Rep) and the new musical, Chosen By God for which he is writing music, book and lyrics. His compositions and recordings include Aliyah, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Fairytale, a musical; Les Anges de Paris, Suite for Violin and Piano; Song Settings; Saltimbanques for Piano and Orchestra; Etudes Thematiques for Piano; and An American Story for Actor and Orchestra. Hershey is the adaptor, director and designer for the very successful play with music, The Pianist of Willesden Lane  and for the new musical Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara, directed by Taylor Hackford, he is the producer and designer. Hershey has operated a full service production company since 2001. He has been a scholar-in-residence at Harvard University’s Department of Music and is married to Kim Campbell, the first female Prime Minister of Canada.
TREVOR HAY (Director) directed the world premieres of An American Story For Actor and Orchestra, Abe Lincoln’s Piano and Hershey Felder As Franz Liszt In Musik.  He is Associate Director for Mona Golabek’s The Pianist of Willesden Lane.  Former member of the historic Old Globe Theatre in San Diego where, at the age of nine, his first position was selling Old Globe memorabilia. Over the next 32 years, Mr. Hay went on to various aspects of production on more than 80 presentations, including the Broadway productions of Jack O’Brien’s Damn Yankees, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. Included in his 23 seasons at the Old Globe were eleven seasons of the Summer Shakespeare Festival Repertory, as well as work on Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, directed by Sam Gold, and Hershey Felder’s George Gershwin Alone, Monsieur Chopin and Maestro Bernstein.
Founded in 1921 by suffragettes, The Town Hall began as a lecture hall and public debate forum and grew to be a landmark institution for arts, culture, and education. Over the decades, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Billie Holiday, Igor Stravinsky, Bob Dylan, and Miles Davis have graced the stage. Today the Hall boasts the hottest acts in rock, pop, folk, cabaret, world music, comedy, and dance. Recent artists include Elvis Costello, Larry David, Ani DiFranco, Amanda Palmer, Rodriguez, Pat Metheny, Norah Jones, Brandi Carlile, Joe Jackson, Pink Martini, Regina Spektor, and Lang Lang. For over twenty-five years, The Town Hall has hosted live broadcasts of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion and produced a number of new and critically acclaimed musical series, including Century of Change, Not Just Jazz, Broadway by the Year, Broadway Cabaret Festival and, recently, Newish Jewish Music Festival and Leyendas: Latin Music Legends.

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Last night, June 6, the story and music of America’s Composer come to life on stage when The Town Hall presented Hershey Felder as Irving Berlina new play with music written and performed by award-winning actor and musician Hershey Felder (Broadway’s George Gershwin Alone, Maestro Bernstein). Directed by Trevor Hay, Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, The Town Hall engagement marked the New York premiere of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, which has previously played to rave reviews and broken box office records at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, Chicago’s Royal George Theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse and Boston’s Majestic Theatre. Future engagements are planned throughout the United States. 

Notable attendees who applauded Hershey at The Town Hall and celebrated at a post-show reception at Sardi’s,including former Prime Minister of Canada and wife of Felder Kim Campbell, Tony Award winning actor Tyne Daly (Rabbit HoleGypsy), Academy Award winner Dame Helen Mirren (Eye in the SkyThe QueenThe Audience), director Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek WeddingGeorge Gershwin Alone); and the daughters of Irving Berlin – Mary Ellin Berlin Barrett,  Linda Louise Emmet, and Elizabeth Peters.

Jerome Kern famously said “Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.” George Gershwin called him “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.” Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin brings the man behind the iconic music to life in an evening reflecting his remarkable journey from child immigrant to America’s most beloved and prolific songwriter.  From Tin Pan Alley to Carnegie Hall, from The Great White Way to The Silver Screen, and from the pop charts to the steps of the nation’s capital, Berlin’s music provided America with the soundtrack of a century. Berlin’s catalogue includes over 1,500 songs, 18 Broadway shows 16 feature films 232 top-10 hits, and 10 #1 hits. Berlin’s songs have been performed by a diverse list of artists including: Fred Astaire, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Merman, Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney Elvis Presley, Luciano Pavarotti, Ella Fitzgerald Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Barbra Streisand, Billie HolidayMarilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin features the some of the composer’s most popular and enduring songs including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “God Bless America,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “White Christmas.”

Later this summer, Hershey Felder returns to the New York stage channeling the great composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in Maestro, a new play with music written and performed by Felder, and directed by Joel Zwick at 59E59 Theaters . Part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters, Maestro plays August 31 – October 16.

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