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A CurtainUp Review
George Gershwin Alone
|The language he spoke was an eclectic one-black-face humour, Russian sentimentality, Jewish sorrow, Broadway pep and French ooh-la-la. In short, typically American. It made our worlds one world
-- Abram Chasin
as George Gershwin
George Gershwin is deservedly an American musical legend. If he'd written nothing but "American Rhapsody", he would deserve a place in musical history. But in a tragically brief life he also composed a thrilling folk opera, Porgy and Bess, and countless brilliant show tunes. Our lives are enriched by the music he left behind, and poorer for the music that might have been had he lived a normal life span.
While Hershy Felder undoubtedly admires the man and his music, his George Gershwin Alone offers far less to admire. Yael Pardess's attractive set promises a play with music, but plays like a lecture accompanied by music. Except for looking remarkably like Gershwin, Felder has added little to the Gershwin lore.
His script is awkward and not always accurate; for example, one anecdote about Gershwin and Ravel should, according to the Boston Pop's conductor Keith Lockhart, have been attributed to Gershwin and Stravinsky. The single most dramatic and moving episode is Felder's slipping into the persona of Henry Ford. As Ford, a rabid anti-Semite, reads a vicious article about the corrupting influence of jazz by the Jewish Gershwin. Back in his Gershwin mode, Felder quietly declares, "I stand accused" and goes on to say that the African-Americans who gaves us jazz weren't even good enough to serve as Ford's target.
While Felder is an accomplished pianist, his showy bang-the-keys-loudly style lacks the grace that made Gershwin such an elegant pianist that his playing prompted almost as many quotes as his compositions -- like this from Rouben Mamoulian: "He would draw a lovely melody out of the keyboard like a golden thread, and then he would play with it and juggle it, twist it and toss it around mischievously, weave it into unexpected intricate patterns, tie it in knots and untie it and hurl it into a cascade of ever changing rhythms and counterpoints."
Felder's singing too leaves much to be desired. In several instances, at least on the night I was at the Helen Hayes, it came dangerously close to being off key.
George Gershwin Alone is not as bad as The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm which disappeared as fast as it appeared on Broadway a few seasons ago. However, it's more pretentious and less satisfying than a Gershwin revue, Gershwin, An American Rhapsody, which has been enjoying a successful run at the Triad. Maybe Felder's conceit would also work better it it weren't taking up much sought after Broadway real estate.
In the interest of fairness, when, after 88 intermissionless minutes Felder lifted his fingers from the 88 keys of his Steinway, the audience greeted him with noisy cheers. Since their reaction is reflected in my LA colleagues review of the same show (different double breasted suit designer), here's a link to her review which also provides more details about what's covered: George Gershwin Alone in Los Angeles.
GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE
Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
.Written by and Starring Hershey Felder
Directed by Joel Zwick
Set Design: Yael Pardess
Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls
Wardrobe provided by Kenneth Cole
Sound Design: on Gottlieb
Running Time: 88 minutes with no intermission.
Helen Hayes, 240 W. 44th St. (Broadway/ 8th Ave) 239-6200
Tuesday through Saturday 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM--
4/17/01-7/22/01; opening 4/30/01
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
based on performance