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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin @ PCS

I must confess to some initial hesitation toward "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin." I assumed it would essentially be a one-man jukebox musical, and it is, but it also has quite a lot of unexpected drama. Berlin's first wife dies young, and later a child dies at or near Christmastime.

I also was unaware of the sheer breadth of Berin's body of work, only associating him with "White Christmas" (We learn in the show that Berlin hated one of its best known versions, Elvis Presley's.) Berlin also expresses distaste for rock 'n' roll as a whole, and that leads to one of the most interesting parts of the show, watching the world and music change around a man who has influenced so much of its culture. I had no idea he had written "God Bless America," a song so much a part of our cannon of patriotic tunes, I had always assumed it was far, far older.

Hershey Felder is both a fine performer and musician, keeping things brisk and lively in a show which is just slightly too long to run without an intermission.

Also of note is the judicious and inventive use of projections, much like the soon to be revived "Pianist of Willesden  Lane," another show featuring one performer and a piano.

Despite the Christmas-tree on the stage, and the narrative being structured as a direct-address to the audience, who are carolers Berlin has invited in, the bulk of the show is actually a welcome respite from holiday fare. Like "Beautiful" it shines a light on a songwriter who was quietly responsible for some of our best known songs. It is a show that gives Berlin his due.

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