Featuring: Hershey Felder
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
When: 5 p.m. Pacific Time, May 10, 2020
Where: Livestream from Florence, Italy
Tickets: $50. Visit https://theatreworks.org/201920-season/hersheyberlin/
'Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin'
First things first: Go immediately to https://www.theatreworks.org/201920-season/hersheyberlin/ and try to buy a ticket to “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin,” a one-time live-streamed broadcast from his home in Florence, Italy. The show happens at 5 p.m., California time, on Sunday, May 10.
It may be too late to get a ticket, but I hope it is not.
When I got to that page, at 6:30 p.m. or so on Friday, I read that “Ticket sales close Friday, May 8 at 6 p.m. Pacific time.”
I pressed ahead anyway, and was able to reserve a ticket. I hope you can, too. What’s their problem? Gotta give a count to the caterers?
So, try for a ticket – There’s nothing to lose, and a great show to win. And, if nothing else, maybe you can get in to see the video when it is posted after the show, for 72 hours. OK. That done? Then you can come back here and finish reading this story.
When Covid 19 closed theaters around the world, lots of them looked at possibly fatal budgetary losses. Ticket sales aren’t everything to most regional theaters, but they are a lot.
A big loss for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley was having to cancel the 2020 Hershey Felder show, “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin,” which had been scheduled for August 26 through September 20, 2020.
Here’s the deal: Felder’s shows make more money for TheatreWorks, sell more tickets, than anything thing else they’ve ever staged. Canceling the Chopin show means canceling about $1 million in ticket sales. Sure, some of that goes to Felder, but a really big chunk of it goes to TheatreWorks.
Previous Felder composer shows — which began with "George Gershwin Alone" in 2000, and continued with shows on Chopin, Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Franz Liszt and Irving Berlin — have been enormously popular. That man is — truly — an incredibly charming and talented entertainer, who welcomes the audience into his loving arms, and charms them with his musical stories and talent. The shows are illuminating; even if we go in thinking we known a lot about the various composers, chances are we will learn something new.
The Chopin show has been rescheduled for March 17 through April 14, 2121, but what will help the exchequer in the meantime?
In a phone interview on Thursday, TheatreWorks founder and artistic director Robert Kelley said lots of TheatreWorks people had been spending a lot of time in Zoom meetings, trying to figure out what they should do.
“I'm getting a little tired of Zoom,” said one of the nicest, smartest people in theater. “I want to reach out and shake somebody’s hand, or give somebody a hug.”
Kelley and the other TheatreWorks people were thinking about Felder, and “What can we do online? ... We started thinking we could get him to do something, and literally just before we could call him, he called us, and said, ‘I’ve got this idea of doing the show that would benefit theaters I’ve worked for, and keep me in touch with people who have been supporting my shows.’
“It was unbelievable. We are very excited,” said Kelley.
Felder works very hard at what he does. He has homes in Florence, Italy (where the dog lives, and is king), Paris, France, and somewhere in North America. He is Canadian, and, in fact, is married to the first and only female prime minister of Canada, Kim Campbell. But he only spends about a month at year at any of his homes. Instead, he is on stages, around the world and especially in North America.
He takes very seriously the role he plays for a number of theater companies.
During an interview in March of 2019, he talked about why he doesn’t rest.
“The company has to run. … Theaters rely on (income from his shows). I’m beginning to believe that work is what makes a person what he or she is.”
“He comes in every day, really early, and practices for hours in the theater,” Kelley said on Thursday. “I’d try to hide, so as to not disturb him. But this is Hershey, who knows everything that happens in his audiences; he knew I was there. That kind of broke the ice.”
The two dedicated and talented men have become friends over the years Felder has been performing at TheatreWorks.
“We both have a deep appreciation of the piano,” Kelley said. “For Irving Berlin, for Beethoven. One time he was in there playing, and I was in there listening, and he said, ‘I have to play something for you.’ He played some Debussy pieces. They were so beautiful. I was stunned. I said, “If you ever do that show, I want to be a part of it.”
Which led to the world premiere of “A Paris Love Story,” Felder’s play about himself, and about Claude Debussy, at TheatreWorks in 2019.
Felder brought his Irving Berlin show to TheatreWorks in 2016, and it was, and is, wonderful. The talented Felder wrote the book, designed the set and costumes, and acts the role of Berlin at various ages. He can sing, he is a master pianist, and a terrific actor.
“It is a fun show, I am looking forward to it, “Kelley said on Thursday. “It is the first Hershey show we did at TheatreWorks, and it succeeded beyond all expectations … it was a massive success. The idea that he is going to be doing it in a live broadcast is very exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing what Hershey's home is like.”
The show itself, besides being very entertaining, is kind of overall amazing.
“There's Hershey, a very handsome guy,” said Kelley, “looking like Irving Berlin … the sort of person who could be at a party and we’d not know he’s there. Until he starts playing piano.”
The show begins in Berlin's upscale home in New York, then becomes a village in Belarus. It is fine projection work and ably helps tell the tale. Over the course of the show, we see photos from his life, including of his two wives, and see and hear clips from movies for which he provided music. Al Jolson singing "Blue Skies" in "The Jazz Singer" is hilarious.
And, Felder continues to play piano and sing, oftentimes, during those film clips.
Lots of laughs, including when he has Berlin gleeful exclaim that "Alexander's Ragtime Band" wasn't even ragtime. "It was a march!" he said.
Here is a link to my review of the 2016 show. The online version Sunday should be fascinating. Felder brought his set for the show into his home, and maybe we get to see a bit of his home. Maybe even get to meet the dog who would be king.