Hershey Felder’s latest solo show about the life and times of American composer, Irving Berlin, is a veritable tour de force performance as well as an emotionally visceral experience for the audience. Many in attendance were of the era and were completely carried away by nostalgia while the entire audience found themselves familiar with just about every song whether they had realized they were written by Berlin or not. For those unfamiliar with Berlin’s contributions to the American Songbook, it was indeed an astounding history lesson.
Felder takes us from Berlin’s earliest childhood memories of coming to Manhattan’s Lower East Side as a family of Russian, Jewish immigrants driven out of their country in 1893 through his scrappy childhood to his earliest successes, his loves and loss, through war and peace, all the way to his death at 101 years old. It’s remarkable that Felder fits so much history and music into an hour and a half piece without intermission but he not only achieves this feat but excels beautifully. He invites the audience into every scene, giving us a first row seat to history as well as a window into Berlin’s most private and personal tragedies and triumphs. During some of the more poignant scenes, you could hear a pin drop. In contrast, the entire audience joins in with ease on such classics as “Always”, “Blue Skies” and “God Bless America”, a testament to just how much Berlin’s music is ingrained in our public consciousness.
And the hits keep on coming, from the haunting “What’ll I Do?” to the syncopated rhythms of “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails”. There was Felder as Ethyl Merman singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and the actual Fred Astaire singing “Top Hat..”, and Al Jolsen singing “Blue Skies” as movie and slide projection design by Lawrence Siefert and Christopher Ash take you seamlessly to the various moments in time. There are simply too many hits to name; 1500 songs written including the scores of 19 Broadway shows, 18 films, nominated for 8 Oscars with a myriad of them becoming popular hits.
“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” takes us on an improbable, only in America, rags to riches story of this immigrant “singing waiter”, who played solely in the key of F, who became synonymous with the American song.
The historic Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena. Check their website to explore their exciting new season which includes The Fantasticks, M. Butterfly, Shout Sister Shout & Twelfth Night!