‘George Gershwin Alone’: A love song to the love song man

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Hershey Felder as America’s favorite composer in George Gershwin Alone at Berkeley Rep. Photo: Mark Garvin

George Gershwin Alone is a bright and breezy one-man show written and performed by Hershey Felder using the glorious music and lyrics of George Gershwin (1898–1937), and his brother, Ira (1896–1983). Felder, playing George Gershwin, fascinates the audience as he describes Gershwin’s short life and plays some of his greatest pieces.

Felder is no slouch himself. A talented concert pianist, composer and actor, he spent five years researching and reading Gershwin’s original manuscripts and correspondence. He interviewed biographers and family members, and had unfettered access to the Gershwin archives.

George Gershwin wrote over 1,000 popular songs for Broadway and the movies, many of which you have probably heard. I checked my iTunes library and found 30 of them performed by artists from Cannonball Adderley to Janis Joplin, including “The Man I Love,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “’S Wonderful,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”

Gershwin also wrote the more sophisticated “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), the symphonic tone poem “An American in Paris” (1928), and what Gershwin called a folk opera, “Porgy and Bess” (1935).

With such memorable music as “Summertime” and “I Loves You, Porgy,” it was a surprise to learn that “Porgy and Bess” was a flop when it first opened. Felder explained the musical complexity of the opera, which includes a fugue, a passacaglia, a tone row and the use of atonality, polytonality and polyrhythm.

Felder’s show has had successful runs on Broadway, in London’s West End and in cities across the country. Berkeley is the final venue for George Gershwin Alone. This charming, poignant, but brief (90 minutes, no intermission) glimpse into the life and art of one of America’s most cherished composers is not to be missed. Audience members left the theater smiling and singing.

George Gershwin Alone is playing at Berkeley Rep through June 23.

For information and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep online.

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  • Eva T

    I dressed my son Kuhio (age 11) in his finest attire. I wore my Vintage red dress and we hit the town. Entire BART ride to Berkeley, my son cried of his tight dress shoes and button-up shirt. I told him, “Too bad, we’re seein’ Gershwin. Get over it.”

    We arrived and could smell the expired Chanel Nº 5 and Ben-Gay Arthritis cream. Canes, walkers and gentle conversations of pre-show chattering. I loved it all.
    My son looked up at me, “Mom, I’ve never seen so many old people in one place!” Immediately, I took a large side-step hoping no one would recognize I was his mother.

    Everyone methodically filed quickly into the theater from the lobby, making way to their seats. Damnit, the usher had spotted me and placed my son next to me.

    The lights dimmed. The show began.
    Then it ended.
    Not. A. Dry. Eye. In. The. House.

    The end of the show, I thought back twenty years ago when I couldn’t figure out how to read Gershwin’s Sheet Music.
    I was so frustrated. I called my Father, who’d been born and raised a Jew in the Bronx. I put him on “speaker” and set the phone atop my piano ledge. I begged him to listen and correct me while
    I played the notes.

    As I played Gershwin’s ‘Prelude Concerto No. 3′
    my Father yelled over the speaker, in his Bronx accent, “NO, F SHARP! F
    SHARP! …There Ya go Doll! You got it Kid!”

    Thanks Dad.