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Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin

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Always, White Christmas, and God Bless America are but a few of the unforgettable additions to the American Songbook made by one of the country's, and the world's, greatest composers of popular music, Irving Berlin. And who better to relay the great music man's life story than that musical chameleon and theatrical polymath Hershey Felder?

After all, Felder had created a performing niche for himself that is singular and unique. He has created and performed shows that convey the biographies and underscore the artistry of such luminaries as George Gershwin, Frederic Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, and Franz Liszt.  In each portrayal, Felder not only embodies the composer, he also gives a survey of the music contributed by each of these groundbreaking maestros.

Each of Felder’s characterizations is distinct and devoted to its subject without being hagiographic, and it’s likely that devotees of Felder’s creative stagings have a particular favorite. Indeed, it’s difficult to upstage Beethoven, but having seen each of Felder’s detailed depictions (with the exception of the Franz Listz staging), it is this writer’s opinion that Irving Berlin is so far the best fit for Felder. With thick glasses, clad in a conservative business suit and necktie, Felder captures the Berlin persona naturally and apparently effortlessly.

Directed by Trevor Hay with a focus on setting and storytelling, Felder is completely convincing as Berlin. What’s more, the stagecraft on display is elegant and engaging. With a lovely scenic design by both Felder and Hay, lighting by Christopher Rynne, scenic decoration by Meghan Maiya, Jordan Hay, and Emma Hay, and an indispensible projection design by Andrew Wilder, we are not only given a thoughtful overview of Berlin’s long life (he lived to be 101 years-old), we also get a grasp of the historical arc through which he lived.

But it is the music that brought Berlin to the world. And Felder makes it his mission to share that music with his audience. Berlin wrote hundreds of songs and scored an astronomical amount of stage shows and movies. In Felder’s rendition we get a terrific sampling of the music that Berlin made. There’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1911), Puttin’ on the Ritz (1927), and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), to mention just a few that give a hint into Berlin’s longevity as a composer and lyricist. But it is in the commitment to the music that both Felder and Berlin shine. Part documentary, part musical, Felder’s Irving Berlin is not only an educational experience; it’s also an entertaining two-hours.

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin continues at the Laguna Playhouse through February 8. The Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. For reservations, call (949) 497-2787. For online ticketing and further information, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.