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
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
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
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
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