by and starring Hershey Felder
Music & Lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin
Directed by Joel Zwick
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts' Mertz Theatre
Asolo Repertory Theatre Presentation
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, 941-351-8000
May 18 - June 5, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Front pages of sheet music by George Gershwin float above a desk to one side of the stage. A cozy chair and lamp under a canopy of drapes occupies the opposite side. Center is the Steinway and bench, above which projections of Gershwin will appear throughout Hershey Felder's giving his own portrait of the man and composer. He's introduced in the dark by city sounds. He's at the piano, then, under a single spot that gets brighter as he plays, sings, explains bits of musical technique to illustrate Ira Gershwin's contention that the music and lyrics are all important in creating songs, shows. From then on, this show is a somewhat curious mixture of first and third person telling of biographical facts along with giving background on, singing and playing Gershwin's music. Felder's moods alternate according to those of phases of Gershwin's life, serious or relaxed, questioning or accepting, but he's generally amiable. Under Joel Zwick's direction, he moves and uses the stage spaces well.


The songs emphasized--"Swanee," "I Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay"-accompany important biographical references. Felder plays so strong a rendition of "Rhapsody in Blue" that the opening night attendees treated it as if climactic (standing applause). But there was more playing as well as plugging Porgy and Bess as a great American opera. Finally, the performance evolved into a Sing-Along! And if Felder had been stunned by how beautiful is the Sarasota theatre where he'd been invited to perform (a grandly restored 19th Century Scottish opera house), he indicated he was almost as pleasantly surprised by at least one voice from the audience (retired pro) and most people's knowledge of Ira Gershwin's lyrics.


Yael Pardess designed the Scenery; Michael T. Gilliam, Lighting; Jon Gottlieb, Sound. Matt Marsden is Tech Director; Margaret Hartmann, Lighting Director; Production Stage Manager, Nate Genung. The first show exceeded its announced 120 minutes length by 10 minutes, perhaps due to the audience participation. 

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