Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
George Gershwin Alone
"I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "S'Wonderful" and many other classic tunes are George and Ira Gershwin's gift to the world. George's Porgy and Bess has become a beloved piece of work. Unfortunately, George Gershwin never lived to see his work become part of the American fabric. The talented composer died as a result of a brain tumor in 1937. He was only 38 years old.
Sixty-six years after his death, George Gershwin is being resurrected in the form of a show called George Gershwin Alone. Currently running at Ford's Theatre, George Gershwin Alone follows the life of the famous artist from his childhood on the streets of New York to his move to Hollywood where he worked in the movie industry.
The piece is a one-man show performed by Hershey Felder. Mr. Felder also wrote the book for the show and it is peppered with Gershwin's wonderful music. As George, Felder sings, plays piano and tells stories. Musically, he is quite wonderful. Mr. Felder has a pleasant voice and plays the piano beautifully. However, his portrayal of George is uneven and often lacks spark.
Director Joel Zwick of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame provides direction that is rather mundane. Additionally, the role of George is not fleshed out. As George, Felder tells some lovely stories but that is all they are - just stories. It never feels like the real George comes through.
The element that saves the show is the music. You just can't go wrong with Gershwin and it is obvious that Felder has a deep affection for these pieces. It especially comes through in his lovely performance of "Rhapsody In Blue."
The show also includes a sing-along. At this point, Felder breaks character and invites the audience to join in. Out of character, Felder is quite charming. He jokes with the audience and invites individuals to take the stage with him. It is at this point where Felder appears most comfortable. In fact, Mr. Felder would probably be more successful if he abandoned the stage show and instead, developed all this wonderful material into a cabaret act.
There are some elements in this production that do work. Yael Pardess' scenic design is very strong. Also, noted fashion designer Kenneth Cole has provided a dapper wardrobe.
Despite its efforts, George Gershwin Alone falls short of being a successful tribute. However, Gershwin's music stands on its own and that alone is worth the trip down to Ford's Theater. George Gershwin Alone runs through February 23rd.