BWW Review: Hershey Felder is IRVING BERLIN in Superb TheatreWorks Production

BWW Review: Hershey Felder is IRVING BERLIN in Superb TheatreWorks Production

What do you give the person who has everything? For Irving Berlin, the answer was a song. According to Hershey Felder, the composer wrote for "the people" - in some cases, specifically for his wife and children. Perhaps Felder had the same audience in mind when he wrote his one-man show, "Irving Berlin." Just under two hours long with no intermission, the robust production is an incomparable gift in itself.

A younger Berlin encourages his elder, recluse self to invite a group of Christmas carolers - the audience - inside his parlor to learn the history behind their favorite tunes. Berlin recounts his immigration to America after watching his Jewish village burned to the ground, his years as a singing waiter and his gradual rise to fame on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Berlin's story is heartbreaking, beautiful and inspiring all in one, and Felder excels at telling it. Like his hands on ivory keys, Felder soars from moments of joyous fortissimo to instances of poignant pianissimo. We learn about the loss of Berlin's first wife shortly after their honeymoon, the sudden death of his infant son on Christmas day and the horrors thrust upon his beloved America by two world wars and racial tension. We also see the grand triumphs of his life, from Berlin's second marriage of 62 years to his interactions with the likes of Fred Astaire and Ethel Merman - of whom Felder does a fantastic comical impression.

Felder's homely, personable voice offers warm comfort with melodies that include "I'll Be Loving You Always," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "White Christmas," "Blue Skies" and many more - just a few of Berlin's 232 top-ten hits, 25 number-one hits, and approximately 1,500 creations. Felder even opens the floor for a sing-along or two, never disengaging and always on point with his classically trained fingers, even while he continues to speak to the audience.

Though Christmas has passed, audience members feel right at home with Felder. Richard Norwood's elegant lighting changes throughout to highlight a center-stage piano, a handsome Christmas tree and various set pieces - scenic design by Trevor Hay and Felder. Andrew Wilder and Lawrence Siefert provide projections of Berlin family photos and film clips. The visuals add much to an already fascinating script, but were it only Felder on stage, his energy and charisma would be enough to keep the listener engaged for hours.

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Hershey Felder's IRVING BERLIN
at TheatreWorks' Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
Through February 14

http://www.theatreworks.org/

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