By William Wolf

MAESTRO BERNSTEIN  Send This Review to a Friend

There was a risky introduction that occurred before Hershey Felder plunged into “Maestro Bernstein,” the play he has written and has been performing about the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Film clips of the real Bernstein were projected as audience members took their seats and awaited the actual show at The Town Hall on July 17, 2014, the New York premiere of a work already presented in many cities and was now being done as part of The Town Hall’s summer season. But once Felder took the stage as Bernstein, his charm and expertise soon earned acceptance in the role even though the visual memory of the real man lingered.

In the show, directed by Joel Zwick, Felder as Bernstein recounted his life and career, interspersed with his playing music Bernstein composed or performed, spanning Broadway to the classics. Felder is an accomplished pianist in his own right, as well as an actor able to assume the role and involve an audience in the aspirations of Bernstein, fulfilled and unfulfilled.

There was great beauty in the performing of “Maria” from “West Side Story,” yet at the same time it represented a frustration, symbolizing Bernstein’s disappointment at perhaps being remembered more for that than for more complex composing and the overall composing career he would have preferred more than for his fame at conducting. Bernstein’s variety of talent spread him thin, as also reflected. His achievement in bringing more music to television, for example, can be seen in clips of his educating youngsters, another area that earned him respect.

Felder mined humor out of recounting Bernstein’s early lfie and his father’s initial skepticism about his desire for a career in music. Also there was amusement in Felder’s demonstration of Jewish sounding roots derived from classics.

Poignancy was achieved in recounting in personal terms Bernstein’s marriage, and then the upheaval resulting when he found love for a man and pursued that phase of his life.

The performance was extended beyond a few possible endings, but by the time the show was over, Felder had succeeded in reprising an important life in the world of music, punctuated with performance samplings of the very music that dominated that life. Felder has accomplished quite a feat in creating this show, and it is regrettable that this was a one-night only New York performance, which merits being done for a longer run here. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed July 20, 2014.

  

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