and the music and poetry of Stephen Foster, John Howard Payne
and Walt Whitman
Book and Music by Hershey Felder
Directed by Trevor Hay
At Royal George Theater, Chicago
Moving glimpse into the death of Lincoln from the perspective of his doctor
Hershey Felder departs from his usual pattern of presenting composers’ bios with him playing their works on piano while acting out the composer’s story by ‘playing’ a non-musician but a little know historical character in An American Story, for actor and orchestra. His moving story of Dr. Charlie Augustus Leale who attending Lincoln when he was shot is a quite a special theatrical event. Felder deftly moves through Dr. Leale’s life story from his reminiscence in 1932at age 90 back to his early roots in both medicine and American theatre. Filled with music from Stephen Foster and Henry Bishop – songs like: ” Beautiful Dreamer,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Oh! Susanna” and “Home Sweet Home” among others, An American Story is a terrific look at the horrific events of Lincoln’s assassination from the context of the mid 19th Century American culture and the point of view of a young doctor pressed into service trying to save the President.
Felder tells Dr. Leale’s story that makes him a quiet, unassuming hero who dedicated himself to medical service to children after a valiant attempt to save the shot President. Felder effectively paints a portrait of American from 1850 through 1860’s via era perfect songs by Stephen Foster and Henry Bishop. He explains Dr. Leale influences that led him to a life of service through medicine and through the pleasures of theatre.
Among the most moving part of this wonderful 80 minute musical is the last hours of Lincoln’s life while Leale desperately attempted to save Lincoln. Felder included bring in the love of theatre by Leale and his enjoyment of John Wilkes Booth that led him to Ford’s Theatre to both see Booth and Lincoln on that fatal night.
Felder, ever the detailed researcher, includes factual details and insights as well as local atmosphere ( including songs of the era) to get us into the moment of Lincoln’s death as well as a glimpse into the horrors of a Civil War hospital. An American Story uses music and song to engage us and move us int the emotional depth of the Era. We hear Lincoln’s words (including a moving presentation of the Gettsberg Address), Walt Whitman’s poetry to add local color to Dr. Leale’s story.
Heshey Felder uses a wonderful melodic 10 person orahestra to covey the Era’s music. Under Kevin Case’s leadership, the orchestra added much to the production. Mood and atmosphere were created through Fleder’s fine vocals with the stirring orchestra.
This emotionally packed drama with music grabbed the opening day audience and kept them transfixed throughout. This may be Hershey Felder’s finest show. Certainly it is his most unique historical work that fills us in on an unknown historical figure as it is Felder’s most challenging acting role. It is a tight, powerful, and expressive glimpse both into history and 19th Century America culture. Hershey Felder once again proves that he is a master of stage presence. He is the finest storyteller of our time. Don’t miss his stunning work.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 10, 2013
For more info checkout the An American Story page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago, call 312-988-9000, tickets $6- – $65, Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 80 minutes without an intermission, through April 14, 2013