Tuesday, October 13, 2015

reviews - HERSHEY FELDER AS IRVING BERLIN - Arizona Theatre Company

Hershey Felder
photo: 88 Entertainment
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 25th.

...Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin...this one man production explores the life and works of a Russian-born composer often considered to be the greatest American songwriter in history....the immensely talented Felder takes us step by step through the various phases of America’s incredibly prolific composer and lyricist, underlining the highlights of a fascinating life by assuming the role of a young Berlin and talking directly to the audience....He invites all of us in to his home where he proceeds to walk us through each chapter of his life, his two marriages, his heartaches, his disappointments, but best of all, his work, including the origins of White Christmas, how it was written and why.  As the play progresses, Berlin ages before us ...Directed by Trevor Hay, who along with Felder created the attractive living room set, there’s also Meghan Maiya, Jordan Hay and Emma Hay who brought the seasonal decorations to life, Richard Norwood whose atmospheric lighting design aids a change of location or the temperament of an anecdote, and Erik Carstensen’s sound design whose artificial audio flourishes help create atmosphere without ever overshadowing Felder’s dialog. But perhaps best of all, there’s Andrew Wilder’s cinematic style projection design. ...Maybe it’s the accessibility of these famous songs that makes this particular production considerably more satisfying than Felder’s earlier work...Most will already know the songs but there’s fun to be had in discovering melodies that perhaps you’d forgotten or maybe never realized were written by Irving Berlin.  Those tunes will still be echoing in the back of your mind as you leave the theatre.  For me it’s still Blue Skies, and it still won’t quit. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

From classic songs like "White Christmas" to "God Bless America," Irving Berlin has written some of the most beloved and well-known songs in the American Songbook. The latest part of Hershey Felder's "Composer Sonata," this one-man show brings Berlin to vibrant life, telling the very personal story of Berlin's rise from poor, immigrant Jew to world famous composer. This Arizona Theatre Company production takes us along on Berlin's life journey and features dozens of his most famous songs, plus a few of his lesser known tunes as well. It is a magical trip touching upon many highlights in the life of this man who wrote for the people and Felder is nothing short of brilliant in his ability to portray not only Berlin but numerous people in Berlin's life....Highlights include a stirring rendition of "What'll I Do?" when talking about his mother's death and an incredibly moving take on "Suppertime," the song Berlin wrote in 1933 about a woman's response to news of her husband's lynching, where Felder channels Ethel Waters who introduced the song. But there are also happier moments, as he talks about how Berlin wrote "Blue Skies" as a gift for his new born daughter, with Felder singing a sweet version of the song. While the hour and forty-five minute one-act play does bog down just a bit toward the end, it doesn't really contain any moments that go on for too long and does have a sweet and poignant ending. ...(Felder) plays dozens of people, from Berlin's family members to Ethel Waters, Florenz Ziegfeld, Ethel Merman, and Berlin at various stages of his life, using a unique ability to realistically morph between the different people he is portraying. He also plays the piano, which he is incredibly skilled at, and sings dozens of Berlin tunes, all with an impeccable flair and style. This is an exceptionally gifted and skilled performance full of moving moments, comical touches, and a refined sense of showmanship. Director Trevor Hay has staged the play quite effectively...Andrew Wilder's unobtrusive projections add another element to the show. From large background pictures of Czarist Russia, where Berlin was born, to photos of the people in his life and video clips from the films he contributed to, the images seamlessly change throughout, and help set the place and time of the various moments as well as show us the people in Berlin's life...Irving Berlin was an incredibly gifted composer with a rich life story. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin includes dozens of Berlin's best known songs, and with a stirring portrayal of the man by Felder and impressive creative components, it is a moving tribute to one of the world's most talented songwriters." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Hershey Felder has made a theater career by impersonating famous composers.  ..Felder’s latest show, “Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin,”... is his best to date. Berlin’s musical creations are well known to many and the composer’s life story after he immigrated to America at age five with his Russian family parallels many who settled this nation during the early 20th century.... It’s hard not to be roused by “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “God Bless America,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”  While Felder provides a generous selection of Berlin’s classics in his almost two hour toe-tapping tribute, many great Berlin tunes are never acknowledged....Felder utilizes his expert piano playing skills and acceptable imitative vocals to make the history alive.  He’s filled his new show with slides of classic Berlin moments...and Felder also selects well documented comments ..Felder also explains Berlin’s difficulty of writing a song hit for Fred Astaire.  These true stories make Berlin a very real person....a joyous celebration of the great American composer’s rich life and vital tunes." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"It is the quintessential American immigrant story...“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin,” ...the latest in a series of homages to great composers written and performed by the Canadian Felder ...Felder is an engaging and commanding solo presence. He sings and plays his grand piano with precision and verve, and his acting chops are just as impressive. As the biography progresses, he subtly shifts from the brash speech of an immigrant youth to the posh Mid-Atlantic (i.e. half British) accent of an honorary blue-blood...Considering that he is also the playwright, all of that makes Felder more than just a triple threat. ...Video projections, designed deftly and unobtrusively by Andrew Wilder, augment the narrative...You can’t quite call it drama. There are moments of triumph and tragedy, but they are all chronological remembrances, without the immediacy that drives conflict in fiction. ...Felder navigates this mountain of material with charm, humor and perfect pacing...Impeccably crafted and unapologetically sentimental, “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” turns out to be the perfect paean to its subject."  - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Hershey Felder is a virtuoso, a master musician, actor, and playwright. ...Lately, he has taken to the stage as the dean of American songwriters in HERSHEY FELDER AS IRVING BERLIN...Irving Berlin's life and music span the turbulent decades of the twentieth century, and Felder gifts us with a uniquely and sensitively told history lesson. Through songs, Berlin celebrated the blessings and tragedies of his life, paid tribute to the loves of his life and the land that he loved, chronicled the immigrant experience, roasted and toasted show business, and pondered the passage of America's soul.  Felder, with charm and panache, so embodies Berlin that, as he magically evolves from a young aspirational composer to a reclusive centenarian, his living room extends beyond the stage and embraces the audience as fellow travelers in his journey.....Andrew Wilder's backdrop projection of film clips and photographs, paralleling Berlin's accounts, is a work of technical wizardry and a perfect accompaniment to the musical feast. -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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