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Gershwin at the Playhouse this month

January 01, 2010|By Tom Titus

Imagine, for a moment, what American music would be like had George Gershwin not succumbed to a brain tumor at the age of 38. It’s somewhat like envisioning what Hall of Famers Ted Williams or Bob Feller might have further accomplished had they not served their country in wartime.

Gershwin, arguably America’s greatest composer, gave us a plethora of musical standards as well as the operatic “Porgy and Bess,” all the music of the Oscar-winning “An American in Paris” and, of course, the sublime composition “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Laguna Playhouse audiences have the opportunity to experience Gershwin this month when “George Gershwin Alone” settles in for an engagement Jan. 12 to Feb. 21. It’s the brainchild of Hershey Felder, who wrote the book for the show and will portray the composer.

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Gershwin contributed many hit songs to the American lexicon apart from the aforementioned huge successes. If you’ve ever heard “Fascinating Rhythm,” “I Got Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful” or “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” you’re familiar with George Gershwin and his lyricist brother Ira.

The local venue is the latest stop in a tour that has drawn raves across the country, including a plaudit by the New York Times that Felder’s production makes “a great case for his subject as the American Mozart.”

Probably the most glowing review was published in the Chicago Sun-Times, which said that, “In an act of uncanny evocation that more often than not appears to verge on full-fledged channeling, the quadruple-threat performer Hershey Felder ... has brought the quintessential American composer back to life.”

Felder, an actor, singer, pianist and writer, created “George Gershwin Alone” as the final element of a musical trilogy which also dramatizes the lives of Beethoven and Chopin. Laguna audiences will be treated to the latter experience later this season.

A scholar in residence at Harvard’s music department, Felder has drawn worldwide acclaim for his Gershwin, Beethoven and Chopin productions. His wife is Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada.

Directing “George Gershwin Alone” will be Joel Swick, whose movie production of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” ranks among the highest-grossing romantic comedies of all time. Swick has been particularly active in episodic television with 525 episodes to his credit.

Gershwin was the first popular composer to use jazz as the foremost musical element in the serious concert hall. Devotees of that art may enjoy it again during January and February at the Laguna Playhouse.


TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

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