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Our Laguna:

A buoyant blending of different cultures

March 05, 2010|By Barbara Diamond

The collaboration of the Laguna Playhouse and the Festival of Arts Saturday night was a real coup for the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn.

Sister Cities members and friends, visitors from the French Consulate in Los Angeles, and city officials were treated to a reception and private viewing of some of the Festival’s art collection and tickets to a stunning tour de force by actor and pianist Hershey Felder performing as Frédéric Chopin and playing his music.

Felder appeared as himself at the reception, an unannounced bonus.

“That’s why I told everyone to be here by 7,” said Karyn Philippsen, president of the Laguna’s Sister Cities group and the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau.

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Felder also mingled with the audience after the two-hour, uninterrupted solo performance, which included a question-and-answer period in character, to be toasted with champagne by admirers.

A native of Quebec, Canada, Felder now lives in Paris with his wife, Kim Campbell, the first female prime minister of Canada.

“About four years ago, we decided that there was no other place to be than Paris,” said Felder, who speaks fluent French.

As “Monsieur Chopin,” he speaks with a Polish accent — absolutely pitch perfect, said one member of the audience of Polish extraction.

Felder presents Chopin as talking to a group of students who have come to his Parisian studio for a piano lesson.

Two weeks ago, he was performing “George Gershwin Alone” at the Playhouse and his New York Jewish accent rang so true, it was a shock to learn it was not his native tongue.

“I had two or three days to make the transition from Gershwin to Chopin,” Felder said. “It was very difficult.”

Friends of the Library President Martha Lydick jokingly asked if the there would be a sing-along at the conclusion of his Chopin performance as there had been at the end of the Gershwin show.

Felder sang a few bars of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” a pop standard adapted from Chopin’s Fantasie Impromtu at the reception, but non. He did make a sly reference to Rainbows in one on-stage tutorial to his students.

Gershwin, Felder said, was harder for him to portray than Chopin, because the Polish exile to Paris is closer to his own, more European sensibilities.

Association Vice President Pat Kollenda asked if he ever considered a large-cast Broadway show as a broader canvas for his talent.

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