Lyrics & Music by Irving Berlin
Book by Hershey Felder
Directed by Trevor Hay
At the Royal George Theatre, Chicago
He’s back now until May 22, 2016
“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.” -Jerome Kern
“To me, “God Bless America” was not just a song but an expression of my feeling toward the country to which I owe what I have and what I am.” -Irving Berlin
One genius pays tribute to another
As a part of his “The Composer Sonata,” Hershey Felder brings his Irving Berlin one man show to Chicago’s Royal George Theatre. Local audiences have long held Felder in esteem after flocking to his bio/docu/musicals about famous composers, from his George Gershwin Alone, to Fryderyk Chopin, to Ludwig van Beethoven, to Maestro Leonard Bernstein and now, in its Midwest premiere. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin. This current bio/musical is Felder’s tour de force – he simply is the best at one person shows in the world! He combines spot-on acting as he “becomes” his character in physical and vocal traits, plus his piano work and his ability to sing in the style of his character is amazing. He grabs us and carries us through the life of his subject with depth and panache. Felder has the rare gift of making subject immensely empathetic.
Always a fine researcher, Felder’s book traces Irving Berlin’s (1888 -1989) life from leaving Czarist Russia to his becoming an American patriot as he settled in New York’s Lower East Side. Since his father was a cantor, Berlin had an interest in music which led to him becoming a self-taught composer/lyricist. He published his first song in 1907 (at age 19) “Marie from Sunny Italy,” and his first major hit was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911. Hershey Felder tells Berlin’s story by weaving events in his life through his songs. We learn his technique, his motivation, and his passion for telling the American story via song.
This enchanting 90 minute one act is a songfest featuring many of his more than 1500 songs including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” ” Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Easter Parade,” ” Heat Wave,” “How Deep is the Ocean,” ” Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Steppin’ Out with My baby,” “What’ll I Do,” “White Christmas,” and the Broadway anthem “There is No Business Like Show Business,” from Annie Get Your Gun. Berlin composed 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs in his life.
Filled with personal stories from the composer’s life, we learn Irving Berlin’s foibles, his passion for America, and his business sense as the humble composer used his passion to fuel his success. Hershey Felder deftly plays many characters in Berlin’s life as he moves form a young vigorous lad to a 100-year-old man. Berlin’s life parallels America throughout the 20th Century. His dedication to the USA came through with his song “God Bless America” – our unofficial national anthem.
I have seen and enjoyed the skilled craftsmanship of Hershey Felder in his past shows but I must say that with Irving Berlin, Felder is at the top of his theatrical game! This is his finest one person show, don’t miss it. Hershey Felder is a treasure!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 11, 2016
For more info checkout the Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Royal George Theatre’s main stage, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago, I, call 312-988-9000, tickets $60, Wednesday & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission,through May 22, 2016