Hersey Felder as Irving Berlin – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

True confession time…I am a Hershey Kiss. Not the delicious silver wrapped candy, although they are a favorite. It’s my unofficial name for anyone who is a proud member of the Hershey Felder Fan Club. Mr. Felder is simply a virtuoso genius, a master of the piano, a composer, actor, producer and director. He has married his extensive piano skills to his talents as an actor and created unique portrayals of famous men in the world of music.

Past creations, the products of extreme research and writing, are Chopin, Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Debussy, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin and, now, Irving Berlin. To witness this marvelous magician, run to the Westport Country Playhouse by Saturday, August 3 to immerse your self in Berlin’s story.

Born in Imperialist Russia, he came to America’s shores at the age of five. He helped support his family by selling newspapers for a penny and then became a singing waiter. Who knew he would grow up to be a winning composer of the American Song Book?

From his start on the Lower East Side, his stint on Tin Pan Alley, with the Follies, Berlin would go on to find fame on Broadway and, eventually, Hollywood. Felder as Berlin plays many of his more than 1000 tunes, like “God Bless America” that he gave to Kate Smith and the highest selling record of all time “White Christmas” that he resented Elvis Presley stamping with his own style. Felder also does impersonations of “The King,” the bombastic Ethel Merman and the sweet singing of Ethel Waters, and others.

Important moments in Berlin’s life are highlighted, the women he loved, the family he cherished, the trials and triumphs of his musical career, all directed by Trevor Hay. The audience is invited to sing along on many of the special songs, like “Always,” and after the show, the charming Mr. Felder as himself asks for any questions you might have about his personal life. He might tell you of the two years he devotes to each composer’s personality and how he selects which to become. He might reveal how he came to play the piano and when he started on the stage. He might even reveal the composer he is next going to embody. No question is outside the limits.

For tickets ($30 and up), call Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, on route 1 at 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7527 or online at westportplayhouse.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Let Hershey Felder introduce you to his good friend Irving Berlin, the man and the music, and you too might find yourself a member of my personal fan club, the Hershey Kisses.

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