Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ArtsEmerson Presents "Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin" - Continuing Mr. Felder's Love Affair With Boston Audiences

"When I'm worried and I can't sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings."

As I lie down in my bed this evening waiting for sleep to overtake me, two of the blessings I will be enumerating are Hershey Felder and ArtsEmerson.  I just returned from spending two magical hours at the Cutler Majestic Theatre as Hershey Felder recreated a century's worth of life as seen through the eyes and played through the fingers of Irving Berlin

One of the ways in which ArtsEmerson has delighted Boston audiences over the past few years has been to offer a steady diet of the magical genius of Hershey Felder. This year, as Mr. Felder performs as Irving Berlin, ArtsEmerson is giving us a White Christmas in July.  It is a special treat that has proven to be so popular that the run of this show has been extended through August 2.

We have seen Mr. Felder in the past channel such musical greats as George Gershwin, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Frederick Chopin and Leonard Bernstein.  Irving Berlin, born Israel "Izzy" Baline, now takes his places among this pantheon of musical gods that Mr. Felder has embodied.

Mr. Felder gives the prolific song writer an appropriate sitz im leben as he takes the audience all the way back to the Berlin family's origins in Belarus, from which they fled to America after a pogrom by the tsar's troops burnt their Jewish village to the ground. The play begins with Christmas carolers singing under the window of reclusive Mr. Berlin at age 100.  A younger version of the songwriter is addressing an empty wheelchair, and cajoling the older version of himself to invite the carolers into their home to tell the real story of how and why many of his famous songs were written.  And the stage is set for the audience to become the bevy of carolers - sometimes listening to the songs and the stories behind the songs, and sometimes singing along with many of the old favorites we grew up hearing and humming and singing.

So many of the famous Berlin songs were written in moments of grief - the death of a wife, a child, a mother -  or of celebration – marrying a second beloved wife, welcoming the birth of another miracle child.  As Mr. Felder took us through the chronology of Berlin's life and career, his physical demeanor and vocal qualities aged in commensurate ways. His considerable powers as an entertainer and story teller have never been at a higher pitch.  He was greatly aided in this theatrical magic with wonderful Sound by Trevor Hay, impeccable lighting by Richard Norwood and Christopher Rynne and stunning projections by Andrew Wilder, who brought us Al Jolson, Ethel Merman, Fred Astaire, the shtetl in Belarus, Pearl Harbor and other settings that inspired specific songs.

I have never been so moved by a rendition of “God Bless America” as I was this evening as Mr. Felder shared the context in which Irving Berlin was inspired to pull this rejected song out of a trunk and give it to Kate Smith to sing.

The audience was composed mostly of those of us old enough to remember many of the tunes, but my guest was a member of the Millennial generation, and he was thoroughly engaged and mesmerized with the evening’s presentation.

At this evening's performance, after a rousing ovation, Mr. Felder invited to the stage a young man who proceeded to propose marriage to his beloved, while Mr. Felder serenaded them with "I'll Be Loving You Always." It was icing on an already delicious cake.

Tickets are going fast, so if you want to count as one of your blessings the chance to have seen this show, click below and order your tickets now.



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