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Gershwin evening is a missed opportunity



Review by David Munro

THAT is not the rumble of the Underground trains you hear as you approach the Duchess Theatre, where Hershey Felder is presenting his one-man show, George Gershwin Alone. Oh no! It is the sound of the Gershwin brothers revolving in their graves in protest at this insult to their memory.

Hershey Felder has apparently presented this whistle stop tour of George Gershwin's life and music in the United Sates, where one must presume it had sufficient success to justify its transfer to London.

Mr Hershey is a competent pianist and singer, and has a reasonable grasp of the elements of composition, as his breakdown and analysis of individual songs show.

Where he fails lamentably, so far as I am concerned, is in his presentation of the facts of Gershwin's life.

Clearly one cannot cover 38 years - Gershwin died at that age - in an hour and a half, but one can at least give a reasonable account of them.

Mr Hershey selects a plethora of basically unconnected facts, interspersed with a few of the better known songs, which leaves the feeling that George Gershwin's fame was more due to circumstance than his undoubted talent.

While I deprecate the 'then I wrote' approach to a composer's life, Mr Felder might have devoted a little more time to his development from the George White Scandals, through the progression of musicals in the Twenties, culminating in the three Satirical masterpieces - Strike up the Band, Of Thee I Sing and Let 'Em Eat Cake from which Porgy and Bess was the natural successor.

Instead, he tends to dwell on Gershwin's home life, family and friends while merely touching on his musical career.

While his facts are, for the most part, accurate they are presented in such a manner as to diminish their significance in Gershwin's cultural growth.

In addition, you wonder why these particular facts were selected when there is so much else that is more worthwhile to comment on in Gershwin's life, which was neglected.

Anyone coming fresh to Gershwin will be left with the impression that he was a composer who wrote a few tuneful songs and died young, not that he was a major composer and a great influence in the world of musical theatre.

Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess were the two dominant themes in his discourse and while one cannot argue as to these work's importance, nor that they were the two major landmarks in Gershwin's career, there was - as I have indicated - a great deal more material which, if properly dealt with, would have produced a fuller, all-round portrait, rather than the vague, almost caricature, picture of Gershwin that Mr Felder displayed to his audience last night.

Mr Felder sang his selections of songs with brio and gave, in one or two instances, a penetrating and interesting analysis of their structure and, as to how Gershwin achieved musical effects, which underlined his superiority to his contemporaries.

He finished his discourse with a bravura performance of Rhapsody in Blue, which delighted his audience who had clearly never heard it before, judging by the way they applauded.

He then persuaded the audience into sing-along performances of the songs which again delighted them, but rather underscored the emptiness of the evening.

I was however pleased to hear a song from a long forgotten English revue - Rainbow - which he sang as an encore, even though he dismissed its lyricist, Clifford Grey, with a contemptuous nod, unaware, perhaps, that Grey was a notable collaborator with other such composers as Kern, Romberg, Youmans and Friml.

But then, in view of what had gone before, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at that.

To sum up, while Mr Felder seems to be a personable performer of songs at the piano, someone should persuade him to leave George Gershwin alone.

George Gershwin Alone; Music, George Gershwin; Lyrics, Ira Gershwin; Book, Hershey Felder; Direction, Joel Zwick; Design, Yael Pardess; Lighting, Michael Gilliam. CAST - Hershey Felder.
Produced by Nicholas Paleologos, Jeffrey Sine, Peg McFeeley Golden, Lee Kaufmann & Eighty-Eight Entertainment.
Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street , London, WC2B 5LA.
Evenings - Tues - Sat 7.30pm Matinees -Thurs, Sat & Sun. 3pm
Box Office 0870 890 1103

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