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Life Arts    H2'ed 8/31/10

Hershey Felder on Chicago World Premiere of "Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein"

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My guest today is Canadian actor, playwright and composer Hershey Felder. Welcome to OpEdNews and Chicago, Hershey. You're in town for the world premiere of Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein . You've already been quite successful with one-man shows. "The Composer Sonata" was your trilogy about Gershwin, Chopin and Beethoven. The original plan was to start with Chopin and Beethoven but you were discouraged from doing so. Why? And how did you settle on Gershwin?

It was actually the director, Joel Zwick, [My Big Fat Greek Wedding] who in those days said, "No one knows you. How many people actually know what 'Monsieur Chopin' means? Perhaps you should start with someone more recognizable - that'll help."

I had played the Rhapsody and was touched by the public response, so I decided to investigate that character. I guess the rest, as they say, is history.

George Gershwin Alone is actually the second Gershwin show you've done. Tell us about SING and what inspired it.

SING wasn't a Gershwin show. It simply involved the story of a man who whistled the theme of the Rhapsody in Blue to identify himself to American liberators during the Second World War. SING was about that man's story.

I stand corrected. In a roundabout way, your fluency in Yiddish led you to SING and meeting the love of your life [wife Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada]. Explain, please.

Well, whether any of it is preordained or not, the elements of my life seem to be one thing leading to another. Homegrown Montreal boy born to immigrant parents, speaks Yiddish, wants to be a part of Spielberg Shoa Foundation interviews (as a child of Holocaust Survivors), goes to Canadian Consulate to renew passport to go to Europe to interview Mengele twin survivors at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, returns to America, gets asked by the Consulate to perform for the former Prime Minister of Canada, tells story on stage of a boy who whistles the theme to the Rhapsody in Blue, comes to the attention of the Gershwins... you know, one thing after the other.

The three-part series of Gershwin, Chopin and Beethoven is called "The Composer Sonata." Apparently, that's not just a cute title; it's actually a musical construct. For those of us who are pretty clueless musically, what does that mean? And what does each play contribute to the whole, from a musical point of view?

A traditional sonata is made up three parts - call them chapters. The first movement or chapter follows a specific set of instructions: an introduction, a first theme is announced, a second theme, and then the musical manipulation of those themes. Next comes a return of the main themes in a different key, and then a tying up of those themes with a coda. That is how the Beethoven play is structured; the themes are both musical and personal - a young boy, treated poorly by his father, as the first theme, and the results of that. It's the same with the musical themes.

The second movement is usually a Romanza - beauty, softness, romance, dreamy...fiery, magical, mystical - things that describe Chopin and the play Monsieur Chopin. And the final movement is usually a Rondo - a joyous celebration with a specific form, though more extroverted... that is the character of Gershwin. The whole creates a Sonata - a dramatic structure to a musical event.

Thanks for the explanation. I was completely unaware of that layer, although it didn't affect my enjoyment at the time. The composers you've chosen are all quite different from one another, in style, personality and the music they composed. Yet you've utilized the same format - one-man shows - to showcase all of them. Why has it worked so well for such disparate characters?

People want to be directly in touch, and this turns out to be the best way to do it.

Your shows sometimes overlap. Is it difficult to switch back and forth from one character and genre to another? Do you ever find yourself blending them together or mixing them up?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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