March 22, 2012
LA Performing Arts Examiner
Hershey Felder, actor, playwright, director, musician, has performed his one man performance of Chopin at dozens of theaters around the world and the United States, including at least one command performance for an Ambassador. Now he has brought his talents to the Pasadena Playhouse for three different men, Chopin, and Maestro (Bernstein), who he has performed numerous times, and a new character from history. this time, not a pianist, or singer, but one of the greatest Presidents of history- Lincoln. But is he playing Lincoln?
Felder’s performance of Maestro, The art of Leonard Bernstein, was running this past week, and Lincoln’s world premiere begins next week. Felder has performed Bernstein numerous times across the country. He plays not just the man, but his father, friends, teachers, and lovers. He does not switch costumes, remaining dressed as the subject of the piece, but uses the true tools of an actor- voice and body to tell the story of one man’s life, from childhood to death. The audience sees the conflicts between Bernstein and his father who wanted him to get a good paying job, and great teachers who told him he should consider conducting. The story Felder weaves is of the tragic struggles of a man yearning for Love of music, of people, and from the world. A line from the performance speaks volumes, “Love is the only thing any of us really wants to feel.” Felder explores many aspects of this most powerful emotion, and in the process the audience is given a music theory lesson, and a picture of a man yearning to be a composer of music to be remembered for all time.
Felder ended his beautifully crafted performance with a speech to the audience. Next week he is going to be premiering Lincoln for the first time. Felder found a collection of a copy of an address at the Library of Congress called “Lincoln’s Last Hours.” It was a speech given by a Doctor Charles Augustus Leale in New York in February 1909 on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth about how he at 23 fought to keep Lincoln alive and comfortable for his last hours. It is this text that became the birth for Felder’s new musical theatre telling. The work is set at the Ford Theater which is designed very much like the Pasadena Playhouse.
Felder pointed out that it is fitting in his mind that he should premiere his new work on Lincoln at a Theater just like the Ford. It is a musical story telling of the Doctor’s last hours with Lincoln. Felder has recorded selections for the piece with the Chicago Symphony and Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestras. As research for the work, Felder was given a special tour at the Chicago History Museum where items from that fateful night April 15th, 1865, including the sheet he was wrapped in and a tuft of hair from the President’s wound are kept. Seeing those items overwhelmed him and he spent the next two years writing about that day. If his performance of Maestro is any indication, he will bring the audience to beautiful tears and perhaps teach another life lesson from the past to the future.
Felder is performing through April 7th, see the website of the Pasadena Playhouse for tickets and details.
(Note: Part two Lincoln: An American Story will appear late next week.)