From a cavernous abandoned-seeming auditorium in Florence, Italy, actor-musician Hershey Felder plies his trademark chameleon charms to bring the life story of George Gershwin alive.
In this production, the ornate walls of this darkened opera house that the camera seemed to purposely scan near the show’s start are soon forgotten. Felder’s animated Gershwin – as alive as his infectious music—fills the room without need for much set or supporting cast.
Felder is Gershwin--from the kid playing stickball who was stung by the sound of a violin playing Dvorak, to the 20-something taking a job as the rehearsal pianist for Ziegfield Follies so he could be near the exciting “girls”, to his breakthrough moment of interesting famed Al Jolson in his song Swanee, to how the sounds of train wheels morphed into his so famous Rhapsody in Blue, and all the successes and failures that ensued until his untimely death at the age of just 38.
In short order, we know Gershwin. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants he is super driven to find success and fame. Brash, and with ample ego and then some, Gershwin – often with his gentle brother and lyricist, Ira--- brings us the melodies Embraceable You, I’ve Got Rhythm, Summertime, and dozens more. He quips that, to paraphrase, he learns from his brother that in the age old debate re: whether the music or lyrics come first??-- the answer is the contract! Indeed from Broadway to Hollywood there was much commercial success.
Felder though, takes us way beyond the clink of the cash register to the inside of Gershwin’s musician soul. You too may be startled by Felder’s retelling of how frequently the critics panned Gershwin’s work. We share Gershwin’s surprise when his work is praised—such as with the debut of Rhapsody in Blue. We re-live the struggle to find exactly the right key and musical phrasing for Porgy to affirm his love for his Bess. Then, we sit in the back of the theater silently crying along with Gershwin, during the last performance of this opera that had its run cut short by scathing critics’ pens.
Hershey Felder Presents Incorporates Film For the Live Streams
A feature of this broadcast—a benefit for many theaters in US and Italy—was the superimposed snippets from films that showcased Gershwin’s music, starting with Al Jolson performing Swanee. They are presented more as movie cloud images floating above the piano and otherwise empty stage, enhancing the feel of dreams and recollection.
Called “a play with music”, this is yet another trademark Felder musician biopic that seems to create an unquenchable thirst for the music at the story’s heart. Even with the gross spooling problems creating fits and starts in the live broadcast, Felder’s many sublime interludes on the piano to bring Gershwin’s music alive transported, in this writer’s view.
The unfortunate technical glitches were just in the first hearing. All ticket holders were able to listen for the week following to a flawless recording of the performance sans any hiccups one may have encountered in the first, live run. The live performance post-discussion, though brief, did bring up the lens of cultural appropriation when considering Gershwin’s love of jazz music—a timely topic.
Rich story, with music richer still—GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE is a top pick for humanist-inclined lovers of biography and/or music. This was a benefit performance for theaters in the US and Italy, as have been other pandemic Hershey Felder Presents performances.
CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM:
Featuring the music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book: Hershey Felder.
Directors: Stefano de Carli and Hershey Felder; Associate Director: Trevor Hay
Original stage play: Joel Zwick.
Scenic design: Hershey Felder.
Film production and live editing: DeCarli Live film company.
Live broadcast and Sound design production are by Erik Carstensen.
For more information on upcoming productions, visit and bookmark the Hershey Felder Productions website
About the Author:
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.