Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hershey Felder’s, “Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein”

I slept on it and I still can’t come down from the one-man performance we saw last night. It’s hard to hold a stage on your own for an hour and three-quarters without an interval but that is exactly what Hershey Felder did last night in his “Maestro:  The Art of Leonard Bernstein”.

All I had expected was a review of Bernstein’s music, ‘On the Town’, ‘Candide’ and ‘West Side Story’ which I saw with the first girl I kissed so it had extra special meaning to me.  I knew that Bernstein had written some classical music but that had never been of particularly interest.

Coming in to Santa Fe’s Lensic theater you see Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) projected on the backdrop doing one of his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic for which he had become Music Director.  He is teaching his audience the art of conducting.   At the appointed time Felder comes on stage and takes over the role.  The set consists of a grand piano with an armchair on each side and a wall behind which acts as a screen on which images of an orchestra or a character in the narrative may appear.  The colors will also change according to the mood of the moment.  Felder plays, Beethoven, Mahler, Gershwin or Bernstein and once in a while he conducts an unseen orchestra, which is clearly from a Bernstein concert.  Felder has done similar treatments in “George Gershwin Alone” which played in London and New York and “Beethoven as I Knew Him”.

We learned that Lenny wanted to be remembered as a great classical composer.  Instead, he is known for his show tunes and as the great educator of music to the American Public.  Most importantly he became the great interpreter of music for the youngsters through his public broadcast of the Young People’s Concerts for CBS with the New York Philharmonic.

In this one-man show Felder plays Bernstein as an arrogant bisexual who is never satisfied with his life.  Felder has constructed an amazing piece of art, which gives us a very personal view of Bernstein being open to interpretation not only by the audience but by the author as well.


One thing that does not change is the talent and passion of the Maestro and I am not speaking of Bernstein but rather Hershey Felder.   He seems possessed.  The passion of the piece comes through in the fierceness of the performance which sometimes does not allow the words or notes to come out precisely but one is always waiting for the next beat with baited breath.

The show lasts one hour and forty-five minutes without intermission, which seemed to me a bit long at the start but I soon realized the action would not and could not stop.  Yes, I said action, Felder throws himself from piano stool to one chair and then another as he tells us of Lenny’s very religious Jewish refugee father and Lenny’s beloved wife, Felicia, who he leaves after 3 children and a quarter century of marriage for a quickee  affair with the “love of his life”, another man.  in less than a year he came back to be with Felicia who died of cancer shortly thereafter.


It all works magically well as a whole.  I left debating what I remembered of Bernstein himself and how he saw himself as interpreted by Felder.  Bernstein believed that every great work of art is based on what came before and Felder demonstrates the similarities between Beethoven, Mahler and Gershwin, with points borrowed by Lenny!

According to Bob Martin, Executive Director and Impresario of the Lensic the piece may very well go to Broadway but along the way it is being reworked and adjusted in its tone.  The fact that the “Co-Presenter” of the event is Martin Markinson owner of the Helen Hayes Theater in New York adds strength to the argument.  Also, the Helen Hayes has hosted other Felder productions.  Reading a review of the play in the Los Angeles Times showed substantial differences to the play we just saw here in Santa Fe.


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