BWW Review: HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY Captures the Musical Magic of Claude Debussy's City of Light
Pianist, actor, playwright, composer, producer, and director Hershey Felder was born in Canada to East European Jewish immigrants whose love of music and theatre captured his own heart and soul at an early age. Inspiration was born from the first recordings he heard of classical music written by many of the composers he has honored with his own impressive, international stage performances. But Los Angeles holds a special place in his heart since his first appearance in 2000 at the Tiffany Theater in Hollywood when he assumed the role of American composer George Gershwin for the World Premiere of his play George Gershwin Alone. And he has been dazzling audiences ever since, awakening many to the wonders of not only the music, but the real men who created such exquisite moments of musical magic that will live forever.
Following the successes of Monsieur Chopin (2005), Beethoven, As I Knew Him (2008), Maestro Bernstein (Los Angeles world premiere 2010), The Pianist of Willesden Lane (Los Angeles world premiere 2012), Franz Liszt in Musik (2013), Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin (Los Angeles world premiere, November 2014), and Our Great Tchaikovsky (2017), all of which he continues to perform internationally for more than 320 days every year, celebrated virtuoso Hershey Felder has returned to the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts with Hershey Felder: A PARIS LOVE STORY, directed by Trevor Hay, in which he shares his own personal journey as he explores the life and music of French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy, bringing to life a visionary who proclaimed nature his religion and romance his milieu.
Doubling as playwright and performer in his latest critically acclaimed "Great Composer Series" of one-man shows, Felder takes the stage and envelops the audience with his own beloved Paris scenic design (as if viewed from his personal residence there), brilliantly lit and featuring amazing and flowing projections designed by Christopher Ash which accompany the sweeping La Mer to the evocative Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune and the mystical Clair de Lune, among other selections from celebrated composer Claude Debussy's music of ravishing beauty, color and compassion.
Creating an imaginary link to the great composer, Felder first appears speaking as himself to introduce the show, wearing a gray waistcoat suit designed by Stacey Nezda. After sharing his own personal connection to Debussy whose music inspired him to play the piano as a youth, Felder assumes the role of the composer by adding a wig and facial hair designed by Anastasia Pautova. As Debussy, Felder shares the story of how his great works were created, beginning with his youth spent in circumstances of great turbulence during which he was almost overwhelmed by situations of great extremes, both material and emotional while living with his parents in a poverty-stricken suburb of Paris.
As Debussy continues to share, his music is either broadcast to accompany glorious projections by sound design/projection manager Erik Carstensen, or performed live by Felder at the Steinway piano center stage between two arches of a bridge crossing the Seine, with never more than 3 minutes of the entire production performed without music. Sharing many stories to reveal why he was known as a great womanizer (he was Parisian, after all) with much of his musical impressionist design owed to the many women who entered and left his life (sometimes on less-than friendly terms), Debussy (1862-1918) is still known best as well as a seminal force in the music of the early 20th Century having developed a highly original system of harmony and musical structure that expressed in many respects the ideals to which the Impressionist painters and writers of his time aspired.
Felder truly takes his audience on a journey through his own early walks down the streets of the composer's life in Paris. Thus, we are treated to the personal observations of both men who describe the City of Light's wondrously romantic settings from The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame and its Point Zero, to a walk through The Tuileries Garden, down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triumph, and on to the composer's home near the Bois de Boulogne. And since I have personally taken that very same walk, my own fond memories returned as Debussy's glorious music filled my very soul with the eternal power of his magical music of love.
And I will certainly be in the audience for his next "Great Composer Series" creation based upon the music and life of Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), a critically acclaimed Russian composer, virtuoso pianist and conductor whose works are among the most popular in the Romantic repertoire.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts presents The Samantha F. Voxakis and Karen Racanelli Production of Hershey Felder, A PARIS LOVE STORY, Featuring the music of Claude Debussy, Written and Performed by Hershey Felder, Directed by Trevor Hay, continuing through Sunday, June 9, 2019 on weekdays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm in the Bram Goldsmith Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. To purchase tickets priced from $35 to $105, and for more information, please call 310-746-4000 or visit: TheWallis.org/Debussy.
Hershey Felder as Claude Debussy
Photo credit: Christopher Ash