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BWW Review: Hershey Felder as GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE LIVESTREAM from Florence.

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Felder's 3rd LIVE FROM FLORENCE Livestream is his best yet.

BWW Review: Hershey Felder as GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE LIVESTREAM from Florence.
Hershey Felder's Livestream of GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE from the Teatro della Pergola, Florence, Italy. Sunday, September 14th.

These are unnatural times. People are depressed, lonely, fearful, stressed-out, and financially-strapped. We're all looking for those moments of relief, of escape. Live Theatre is more desperately needed than ever, but it is not likely to happen for a while yet.

So, during these times, it's especially critical for theater-lovers to have something to look forward to. One of the precious few theatrical highlights of 2020 has been Hershey Felder's livestreamed performances from Florence, Italy. Viewers hungry for live theater have been flocking to them in droves. The livestreams have been a veritable oasis in the barren theatrical desert of 2020. And best of all - the proceeds from the livestreams have gone to support over 30 theaters and arts organizations hit hard by the pandemic.

BWW Review: Hershey Felder as GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE LIVESTREAM from Florence.

Felder's latest offering GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE was the best of the bunch so far. Watching a live performance - as it happens - retains a great deal of "the high-wire act" of theater, from the safety and security of your home. It's not the same as being in the theater - but it is by far, the best alternative anyone has come up with thus far during this pandemic.

Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone has played over 3,000 performances, seen by over two million people from Los Angeles to Broadway to the UK, and has been celebrated by the public and critics for several years now, as it was Felder's first ever "play with music," a genre that he has carved out as his personal dominion.

"In an act of uncanny evocation that more often than not appears to verge on full-fledged channeling, the quadruple-threat performer Hershey Felder - a Canadian-bred actor, singer, pianist and writer, and all of the first order - has brought the quintessential American composer back to life," wrote the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Felder effectively conveys the emotional roots and resonance of Gershwin's music. Performing gems such as An American in Paris and Bess, You Is My Woman Now, he explains how the journeys taken by characters relevant to those works are reflected in the progression of notes, the chord changes, even the orchestrations." - USA Today raved.

And Bruce Weber of The New York Times, praised Felder saying: "George Gershwin Alone makes a great case for his subject as the American Mozart."

BWW Review: Hershey Felder as GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE LIVESTREAM from Florence.

But this livestream was somewhat "new turf" for Mr. Felder as he was performing the show live on the stage of one of Europe's oldest and most famous theatres, the Teatro della Pergola, which opened nearly four centuries ago in 1656!

Livestreaming the performance from the stage of a theater rather than his home (as in the previous two shows: Irving Berlin and Beethoven) presented new challenges but also far greater dramatic possibilities. The audience was drawn into the theater as if to witness a play and truly felt as if they were right there in the space with Felder as he brought Gershwin to life. Once again, the actor performed directly into the camera and directly into our collective consciousness in a most profound way.

Gershwin is a magnificent dramatic character; he broke all the rules as the first popular composer to use jazz in a classical idiom. He combined musical styles, rhythms and flavors of several varieties of the American experience and created a new musical language that made its mark on both classical and popular music. Along with his brother Ira, his lyricist, Gershwin wrote over a thousand songs, many of which have become part of the musical fabric of America, among them (to name just a few) "The Man I Love," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "I Got Rhythm," "S'Wonderful" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me." That alone would have put him at the top of the heap of great songwriters, but he did more - he took enormous artistic risks, when he had no real need to.

BWW Review: Hershey Felder as GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE LIVESTREAM from Florence.

Felder doesn't "'play" Gershwin so much as he inhabits him, giving life to the spirit and talent of the legendary composer, as he led his audience through the Gershwin songbook, while relating the tragic tale of his brief life. Gershwin, born in 1898 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in New York City, was an enormous success from an early age onward. His groundbreaking opera, Porgy and Bess, is now considered an American classic. It's remarkable just how many musical selections Mr. Felder manages to cover - and cover in detail - in such a short space of time. The stories behind the creation of such masterpieces as Rhapsody in Blue, and An American In Paris as well as Porgy, are all extraordinary tales in themselves.

Inventive stage direction and nimble steady-cam work produced an experience of great intimacy as the audience did not so much follow Gershwin through his life, but rather walked side by side with him.

In the best live drama, performer and audience interact to bring about shared experience: happiness, sadness, epiphany, and sometimes even great catharsis. We all agree, the streaming of performances cannot and should not ever replace the live experience, that much is certain, but as the theater world continues to be distanced in physical proximity, it's incumbent on theater-makers to develop exciting new ways to maintain that contact, that communion with its audience. Thus far, Mr. Felder is running head and shoulders ahead of the pack in that area.

We don't know just when it will be possible for all of us to sit together again in a live theatre setting, but until that happens, it's comforting to know that certain artists (like Hershey Felder) are doing their best to keep the art form alive and providing us with much needed joy. Joy, certainly as a means of distraction, discovery and divertimento from our current daily lives, but also as an expression and affirmation of those lives and an elevation of our spirits when we need it most.

-Peter Danish


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