Hersey Felder as Irving Berlin – Review by Marlene S. Gaylinn

Hershey Felder could be called a “jack of all trades” in the entertainment world. He’s a talented concert pianist, an actor, and a writer who has produced many popular one-man shows featuring the lives and music of many famous composers. Felder also made many recordings of his own music, and formed his own production company. His production of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin,” is currently playing to stand-up applause at Westport Country Playhouse.

Until recent times, the piano soloist played to royalty, wealthy patrons, and select, appreciative audiences. Today, there are only a handful of world-renown classical pianists, and these few soloists compete against more exciting forms of live and TV entertainments. To make themselves appealing to wider audiences, some very talented, classically trained pianists became better known for their personalities than for their piano skills. Victor Borge became a comedian and poked fun of the piano. Liberace’s fame was associated with a candelabra and elaborate costumes. In other words, in today’s entertainment world, you have to have a gimmick.

Hershey Felder’s gimmick is to reenact famous composers lives. He has the talent to express these characters through their music and some acting. While the soloist couldn’t go wrong by choosing the prolific, songwriter, Irving Berlin, it might take a take a leap of imagination to picture this little man being impersonated by Felder whose stature is quite the opposite. And yet, when we sit-back and relax to the pianist’s sensitive rendition of Berlin’s music, and marvel at his vivid portrayal, we are led to believe that the soloist and songwriter are one and the same person. Under the direction of Trevor Hay, Felder takes on a Yiddish accent and some cultural mannerisms, and the audience is moved to applaud Berlin for his patriotism.

The pianist weaves in the most popular songs as well as those less known to today’s audiences. For this writer, a song that my father sarcastically sang, and I hadn’t heard since I was a child was, “My Wife’s Gone To the Country – Hoorah! Hooray! … She thought it best I need a rest and that’s why she went away!”

Berlin, who is characterized as being a non-practicing Jew, married Ellin Mackay, an American heiress who was Irish Catholic. “Always,” a love song that he wrote for her is still being played at weddings. You can’t celebrate Easter without “Easter Parade,” or Christmas without Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.” Berlin wrote over 1,500 songs. He was able to buy the rights to all of them and this allowed him to be generous to a variety of religious and patriotic causes.

As Berlin’s life progresses chronologically, projections depict time-periods along with recordings of famous personalities such as: Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Bing Crosby etc. Felder gives a glorious impersonation of Ethel Merman (whom Berlin called a big “fog horn”) while playing excerpts from “Annie Get Your Gun.” The audience is encouraged to join in some of the songs and ask questions at the end.
Hershey Feld presented such expressive and inspiring entertainment that folks lined up in the lobby to buy sets of the pianist’s other recordings.

Plays through August 3 Tickets: (203) 227-4177