Hershey Felder is Brilliant as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro
The action takes place on Sunday, October 14, 1990, on a set in a television studio. There is a large blank screen as the backdrop where photos of Leonard Bernstein and family and others will appear. Also on the stage is a television camera. This represents the composer's last moments on earth.
Felder portrays the composer/conductor, putting on the appropriate wig. He mixes biographical pieces with his own dazzling performance on the piano. He holds the audience in the palm of his hand, talking about Bernstein's childhood, his relationship with his father, his training as an orchestra conductor, his early career, meeting his mentor the great conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Serge Koussevitsky, and legendary American composer Aaron Copeland. Felder has a field day with various accents, especially Jewish ones. This artist can be funny and gets big laughs from the audience.
Felder also talks about Bernstein's bisexuality. He tells the audience of the composer's pain over the anguish he caused his wife Felicia Montealegre when he left her for a young man. Several stories about his Broadway shows Candide, On the Town and West Side Story are brought in, and he plays and sings a song from each show. At one point, he plays a selection from West Side Story as an example of Bernstein's dissatisfaction at not being remembered for some great concertos. He plays the piece with a note of strong disgust with himself. In another section, Felder beautifully performs the Liebestod from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" with a video of Bernstein performing the same piece projected on the massive backdrop behind him.
One of the most interesting segments of this 90-minute show is Felder's demonstration of how there were only a few degrees of separation between Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto, Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, and Bernstein's "Carried Away" from his 1944 musical On the Town.
Maestro plays through July 3rd, 2014, at Berkeley's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets 510-647-2949 www.berkeleyrep.org.