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Gershwin Alone

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"Rhapsody in Blue" and "An America in Paris" are exquisite examples of George Gershwin's orchestral compositions, while "Porgy and Bess"--with its use of polytonality and polyrhythmic structures is considered a seminal American opera. Hershey Felder's solo-show, Gershwin Alone--now in production at the Laguna Playhouse, through February 21--is a tribute to this legendary maestro. Through Felder's interpretive prowess and immense musical talent we come to know George Gershwin in a way not typically conveyed in a music appreciation class. And, to know Gershwin is to love Gershwin.

Straightforwardly directed by Joel Zwick on a lavish set-design (kudos to Yael Pardess) amidst elaborate ever-changing projections of the Manhattan cityscape as well show posters and pertinent silhouettes (by John Boesche), Felder, as Gershwin, takes the stage. Soon he's seated at an elegant piano. The story has begun, and now the music (ah, that music) underscores and lends buoyancy to the biographic narrative, or is it the other way around? After all, it seems somehow problematic to separate Gershwin's songbook from his life story.

Though his life was short (he died of a brain tumor just shy of his 39th birthday, in 1937), Gershwin, along with his lyricist brother Ira, contributed to the canon of music in a fashion that few melody makers and lyric-meisters ever have. He crossed musical divides from opera to movie musicals --"Shall We Dance,"for instance-- to popular recordings like "Swanee."

Of course, we discover intriguing facts about Gershwin via Felder's elucidating script. For example, Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz. His father, Moishe, changed the surname to Gershvin to make it more American sounding upon immigrating to the United States (Papa Gershvin also changed his own first name to Morris). George later switched the spelling to Gershwin; thereafter, so did the other family members. Disturbingly, we also learn of auto mogul Henry Ford's anti-Semitic tirade against Gershwin and his music in the Ford owned newspaper, "The Dearborn Independent" (aka, "The Ford International Weekly"). Moreover, it's a surprise to realize that Gershwin often endured harsh assessments of his compositions from the literati of the day. Who'd think that anybody would find fault with the likes of "Rhapsody in Blue"?

In an intermissionless hour and-a-half, Felder believably takes us back to the era of Gershwin. True, times certainly seemed as challenging for Gershwin and his contemporaries then as they are now for many of us. But to put a proverbial cherry on top of this bittersweet-treat of a staging, Felder does an after-show sing along with the audience, using Gershwin hits. Not surprisingly it's a joy to join in a rendition of "Summertime," and it's probable that theatergoers will be belting out the words to "I've Got Rhythm" all the way home. Thankfully, the artistry of Gershwin endures triumphantly through Felder's jubilant homage to this one-of-a-kind master composer.

What's more, in addition to Gershwin, Felder also does shows characterizing other game-changing musicians, including Beethoven As I Knew Him and Monsieur Chopin. The latter presentation will be produced at the Laguna Playhouse (February 25 - March 7). Meanwhile, don't miss Gershwin Alone.

Gershwin Alone" continues at the Laguna Playhouse--606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach--through February 21. Show times are Tuesday though Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations, dial (949) 497 - 2787 ext. 1. For further information, visit www.lagunaplayhouse.com.

 

Spotlight

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.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

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.