What George Gershwin Alone provides is a light, pleasant evening of familiar music, with playwright, pianist, and actor Hershey Felder performing excerpts from a dozen or so of Gershwin’s best-known works.
George Gershwin Alone.Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Book by Hershey Felder. Directed by Joel Zwick. Presented by ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Center Main Stage, Boston, MA, through June 10.
By Helen Epstein.
Ten years separate the premieres of Hershey Felder’s one-man shows about George Gershwin (2000) and Leonard Bernstein (2010). I saw the two back to back and found the ArtsEmerson presentation of George Gershwin Alone disappointing.
Although the design and direction of the two shows are excellent and consistent, the script for George Gershwin Alone is the work of a beginner. It plays more like a cabaret act than a theater piece, a series of musical numbers joined together by shtick. There are no dramatic situations or developed characters, and there is no narrative arc.
Although interesting pieces of information are scattered throughout the piece, they don’t add up or hang together. George worked closely with his brother Ira for most of his short life, but we gain no insight into their relationship. George was involved with several women, but we learn nothing about them either. And though Felder tells us that Gershwin moved his entire family—two parents and three siblings—into a nice place on 103rd street, we have little idea of how he related to his family.
What George Gershwin Alone provides is a light, pleasant evening of familiar music, with playwright, pianist, and actor Felder performing excerpts from a dozen or so of Gershwin’s best-known works, including Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue, and a few of the 1000 or so songs Gershwin wrote in his amazingly productive and short life.
Felder is a good story-teller and a fine pianist but only a so-so singer. Given the availability of many wonderful interpretations of this music—”Summertime,” “Swanee,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “But Not for Me,” “S’Wonderful”—I found myself tuning out of Felder’s performance and remembering other voices and personalities.
Gershwin’s story ends with his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. George Gershwin Alone ends with Felder’s reprise of Rhapsody in Blue and a sing-along. It didn’t work for me.
Helen Epstein is the author of Joe Papp and Music Talks, both available as ebooks.