Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin
Also see Mark's review of Anything Goes
Felder has written and performed similar productions about Chopin, George Gershwin, Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Leonard Bernstein. Next year he plans to tour with Claude Debussey's story.
Irving Berlin's fame and recognition as a composer started in about the mid-1930s. He wrote "God Bless America" in 1938, but his producer turned the song down, saying this country didn't need more patriotic songs. As the war heated up, Kate Smith contacted Berlin and asked for a song everyone could sing at war rallies. Berlin pulled the manuscript for "God Bless America" from his files, gave it to Smith, and pledged the royalties to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts of America. Smith introduced the song on her radio program and it was an immediate hit.
When the war ended, the military came home and the entertainment industry set about to provide warm, loving stories. Berlin wrote "White Christmas," introduced in the film Holiday Inn, which became one of the world's most popular songs.
Berlin wrote over 1,500 songs. Felder emphasizes that the songs included in the show simply scratch the surface of the Irving Berlin songbook. This salute to him runs about 90 minutes, and the songs featured represent all genres of popular American music. Examples included are "Puttin' on the Ritz," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Blue Skies," "Anything You Can Do," "Heat Wave," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Let's Face the Music and Dance," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Always," "God Bless America," and "White Christmas."
The set shows a Victorian living room, a piano, Christmas decorations, photographs, and other clutter that might decorate the home of a financially comfortable New Yorker.
The show deals with Berlin's musical career and does not focus on his family, though Felder interviewed Berlin's living children. Felder had a wealth of material available to bring Irving Berlin and his music to life. In the performance he hints that other Berlin songs may exist in a hidden away file. It's intriguing to think a new Irving Berlin song may someday move to the hit parade.
This pleasant production seems to bring back an old familiar friend.
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, through June 23, 2018, in the Allen Theatre of the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH. For tickets and information, visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.