George Gershwin Alone sounds as if it is should be an entertaining evening of great Gershwin tunes, heavily embroidered with anecdotes which would give us an insight into the man himself. However, what we are presented with is a tame cut-down biography. We learn about his good relationship with his parents, his trips to London and Los Angeles, and his love-hate relationship with the critics, and the untimely manner of Gershwin’s unfortunate demise at the age of 38. We are even led to believe that he was so devoted to his music that he had little time for women and flirtation. To fill up for this obvious gap of biographical information the show concentrates too often on the unorthodox techniques of Gershwin’s musical compositions, such as why he was willing to change key in the middle of a musical score, etc.
We are told in the programme notes that Gershwin; often appeared to be “a very kind hearted man, but there are a number of accounts to the contrary”; that his friends either “loved him deeply, or simply tolerated him”; there are “those who said he was a womaniser, and others that he had only one mistress – his music” and that he “engaged in sessions with a psychoanalyst over a lengthy period”. What a pity these elements of Gershwin’s life are never mentioned in the show, let alone examined. This would have brought Gershwin to life, and turned this rather drab piece of theatre into a worthwhile biographical story.
To be fair this lacklustre interpretation of Gershwin may not totally be the fault of the playwright, Hershey Felder. The George Gershwin Family Trust have licensed this presentation, and it seems that they wish to present a very squeaky clean image of Gershwin to the world, rather than to have the man and his life exposed to the inquisitive stares of a modern audience.
The writer and star of the show Hershey Felder is both an actor, playwright, composer and Steinway Concert Artist as well as being scholar in residence at Harvard University’s Department of Music. As such, he is no doubt a very talented individual, sadly however, apart from his concert pianist talent; all his other skills seem to have deserted him. The two main problems with the evening are the lack of biographical facts and Felder’s singing ability. As a singer, even though he has a strong voice and can hold a note, he is most certainly not a soloist - which he himself appears to acknowledge during the show. What a pity therefore he could not find a soloist to accompany his exceptional piano playing.
The evening inexplicably ends with the audience being encouraged to take part in a sing-a-long, with members of the audience shouting out there favourite Gershwin tunes. Sadly, this show has little to recommend it beyond Felder’s concert pianist skills, specifically his rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
If you are a real die-hard Gershwin fan you may enjoy this show, but possibly not as much as you would enjoy an evening at home listening to your favourite Gershwin CD.
What other critics had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Slightly more than competent yet a long way short of exciting." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "A very pleasant little show." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "Superficial but heartfelt."