Produced by: Hershey Felder Presents
Directed by: Stefano DeCarli, based on the original play directed by Trevor Hay
When: Live stream at 5 p.m. PST Sunday, December 20, 2020
On-demand access available December 21-27, 2020
Where: Livestream from Florence, Italy; ticket-buyers will be emailed a link to stream the show to their computer, SmartTV, or other device
Tickets: $55. Visit https://www.theatreworks.org/online/hersheytchaikovsky/
For 35 years, Hershey Felder has traveled the world, especially in North America and Europe, performing highly popular shows on stages from California to Paris.
But then the covid crisis struck, while Felder was in Florence, Italy.
And Italy locked down tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s money bins. Travel, even within Italy, was very constricted, and leaving the nation was not possible.
Felder’s wife, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, was in Canada, and for four months, that’s where she had to stay.
In normal times, Felder travels the world, performing in shows he writes about major composers, including George Gershwin, Frédéric Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Irving Berlin.
Felder designs the sets and costumes, plays piano brilliantly, and even sings, when appropriate, as he brings those great composers to life.
Those shows make a lot of money for the theaters where he performs them. They are, for instance, the top money-earners of all time for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
But since February 1, Felder’s been in Florence — except for one brief trip to his other home, in Paris, when things loosened up, briefly.
“It’s the first time in my life, well, since I was 17 years old, that I have stayed in one place so long,” he said recently, during a Zoom interview. “Thirty-five years like this. “My life is never normal, because I’m not. One is never completely prepared. There are always shocks that happen.”
Not that Felder has just been rattling about in his 921-year-old Florence home, restoring and repainting.
He’s been streaming live shows, to the economic benefit of the theaters where he would, in healthier times, perform.
Already this year, he has streamed “George Gershwin Alone,” “Claude Debussy: A Paris Love Story,” “Irvin Berlin,” and “Beethoven.” And these are no paned-window Zoom sessions — they are impressively produced and performed shows, from the beautiful spaces of his home, or from borrowed stages nearby, with technically proficient if sparse production teams.
All of those presentations were based on the live shows he had already brought to live stages. But this Sunday, he is taking his “Our Great Tchaikovsky” show –— seen in 2018 at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley — and reworking the show’s focus, and adding an ambitious slew of new features.
For instance, a bigger cast — in most of his shows, Felder is the only performer. But in “Tchaikovsky,” there will be actors representing people who were important to the great Russian composer.
And, since Tchaikovsky actually lived in Florence, off and on, for part of his life, Felder will take viewers to places Tchaikovsky visited or lived.
“We are able to use actual locations where he lived,” Felder explained. “We changed the story (from what it had been in the 2018 show). The conceit is different. There are some surprise characters. This one is more cinematic than anything I’ve done before. … I wouldn't do it as one man on stage. There are different ways to tell the story to audiences in confinement.”
When interviewed via Zoom recently, Felder was still in make-up from a camera colors test, at the end of another 15-hour day, in a series of 15-hour days. He was clearly exhausted, but, as always, generous and well-spoken.
In the Tchaikovsky show, he explained, “we use a combination of a lot of things — we have people who know what they’re doing. I’m not an IT person. Getting a computer to work is a big achievement for me.”
Everything in the show will happen in a planned sequence, with Felder appearing as Tchaikovsky and playing piano as the story unfolds, with some pre-recorded segments edited in.
The morning after he was interviewed, he was on schedule to record some footage at Villa Bonacini, where Tchaikovsky lived, 142 years ago.
“The view from the window is exactly the same,” Felder said.
“Tchaikovsky was a big traveler. He was fascinated with all kinds of things around him. He loved Russia, but liked to travel.”
This production “is more insane, much more insane than the previous ones,” Felder said. “It’s scary. We’re running around doing pandemic filmmaking, on some of the most glorious sets in the world.”