George Gershwin, author of an outstanding song list that included “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” died when he was only 38 in 1937 of a brain tumor.
Hershey Felder, a Canadian who lives in New York and Paris, found himself fascinated by Gershwin’s story and ability and 18 years ago created and performed in the show that is on its way to Houston’s Alley Theatre: George Gershwin Alone.
“It was one of those things that he actually picked me,” said Felder remembering how he got started. “I played ‘The Rhapsody in Blue’ in public and at some point people wanted to know more about the character. So I thought why don’t I delve into the character. Perhaps it would be good to join both disciplines. I think it really came from the interest his music was so beloved with the public.”
This must be the season for accomplished piano players performing live onstage during a play – first Amy Herzberg playing pianist Rosemary Dunn in The Spiritualist at Stages Repertory Theatre and now Felder, who has taken this role to Broadway and around the country. Gershwin worked out so well that Felder has also developed and performed in: Monsieur Chopin, Beethoven, As I Knew Him; Maestro Bernstein ; Hershey Felder as Franz Liszt; and his latest, Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin.
Gerschwin, who worked with his talented brother Ira to write many of his songs, had been complaining for a long time of headaches, but the reason for them wasn’t discovered until too late. “He died on the table,” Felder says. “What is really remarkable is that he managed to do what he managed to do with that such a big problem for a large part of his life.”
Asked if people sometimes doubt he’s doing the playing on stage, Felder laughed and said they don’t after seeing him perform but “Once when I was in Los Angeles, a CGI guy from Skywalker Ranch asked me ‘How do you pull off the trick?”
Asked if there wasn’t a lot of pressure to perform musically and act in a play at the same time, Felder said: “I like the idea of it but actually doing it is very hard work. It's a good method of storytelling and I think the audience appreciates it.
Performances of George Gerschwin Alone are scheduled for May 29 through June 21 at the Alley Theatre at UH, 4116 Elgin. Opening night is Wednesday June 3. 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For information visit alleytheatre.org or call 713-220-5700. $26- 69.