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This past Saturday, Standing Room Only listeners across the country were treated to the sweet sounds of American musician Hershey Felder doing what he does best– sinking into someone else’s skin to educate an audience. Canadian-born Felder isn’t embarrassed to admit how enamored he is with his heroes and shares an infectious enthusiasm with his audience, something that shines through especially with his best-received one-man show to date, George Gershwin Alone, currently playing at Emerson’s Paramount Theater.
“It’s amazing to be in Boston again performing in this amazing institution,” Felder reflects between snatches of Gershwin’s magnum opus Rhapsody in Blue. “Right where all this amazing history happened, five feet from us. Rhapsody in Blue came to him on a train from New York to Boston, seeing a premiere of… I don’t know, Girl Crazy.” Felder is referring to Gershwin’s history in our own city in the 1930s, as he headed in and out of our city to attend previews of his and his brother Ira’s productions. The performer’s passion for his source material shines through in performance and passing conversation, and listeners were treated to excerpts from the Gershwin performance after an enjoyable slice of his Bernstein feature just last month. “It’s really interesting to see that the public is craving this direct storytelling,” he said with a smile. “This notion of talking directly to an audience is a very specific craft and it’s a craft from the old days.”
Though his passion for the classics are fresh, the four-part “Composer Sonata” Felder designed himself – which consists of nothing but him, a piano, and the aesthetic of the composer he is spotlighting – is not brand-new fare. He recently wrapped up another quarter of his repetoire, Maestro: Leonard Bernstein, at the Paramount and returned to perform George Gershwin Alone at the insistence of his Boston fans. The artist performed the same show ten years ago at the Boston A.R.T. to great acclaim, and Felder cites many audience members as returners to the show. He’s spent the years since last performing an extended engagement in Massachusetts completing his Sonata, which also consists of a portrayal of Chopin and of Beethoven in Beethoven, As I Knew Him. This Gershwin engagement is especially unique, including an evening question-and-answer session on how he goes about structuring his Sonata pieces and getting beneath the skin of the iconic men he portrays.
When he’s not sweeping the nation (Felder has performed across the country for over fifteen years), he’s produced a great many productions including Noah’s Ark, An Opera; Sing, A Musical Journey; Back From Broadway; Romantique in Boston; An American Story, and all four of his Sonata pieces. Heap this upon his extensive training as a pianist and expertise on the subjects of his Sonatas, and Felder has some serious accomplishments to be proud of. However, the performer keeps himself humble. “That’s the unifying thing for humanity,” he said, “that’s what we do. We’re constantly looking looking for ways to make our lives and everything better, and to leave something behind of import that somebody else actually cares about.”
George Gershwin Alone will be playing at the Paramount Theater until this Sunday, June 10th.