Highly Recommended**** Over the years, Chicago theater audiences have had the good fortune to watch ( and in some cases be a part of) the magical mind of Hershey Felder who has brought his one man shows, “George Gershwin Alone”, “Monsieur Chopin” and “Beethoven,As I Knew Him” to our theaters. These are amazing character studies and biographies where Felder takes on the persona of the title characters and with his supreme piano playing ability, he tells us the story of these masters and their lives and art. When he was last here, the question arose as to who would he do next. Many discussed those possible and then it was announced that the new character study would in fact be Leonard Bernstein. With great anticipation and after a small preview at Ravinia, Mr. Felder’s new creation, “Maestro:The Art of Leonard Bernstein” opened tonight at The Royal George Theatre on Halsted , just north of North Avenue.
Directed by Joel Zwick, in this comfortable and intimate theater, we watch Mr. Felder, once again, become the artist whose story becomes his own. Anyone who has met this performer, writer, musician knows that detail is important to him and every item that we see on the stage has purpose, for him, for the story and for the visual experience that we get during this 105 minutes of pure magic. The Bernstein family and their “office” have allowed many of their personal photos and videos to be used in this very slick production, which of course brings the historical part of the piece to a very real feeling. Felder is not just a story teller, he is a teacher of musical history just as Bernstein was a teacher of classical music.
This particular story, for many will be clearer than the others as Bernstein’s “West Side Story” is one of our classic contemporary musicals, in fact the first Musical play ( not a musical comedy as were the others of its time). In fact, in the story we are told by Felder and Zwick ( who uses the small stage to allow for all to see clearly) we find that Bernstein was a man who knew no fear or boundaries. Tell him it is impossible- he will get it done! Americans are proud to call this man our greatest musician who also became our musical ambassador to the rest of the world and I recall the wonderful, early days of television, planting myself in front of the 12″ black and white set in our living room with my family as this man explained the music that was being performed live by the Philharmonic Orchestra. He was an amazing man and Felder has crept deep inside this personality to bring it to us , live, to allow us to see the heart and soul of Bernstein with great feeling, emotion and depth. Bernstein himself would applaud the quality of the presentation of his story.
“Maestro” will continue at The Royal George Theatre located at 1641 N. Halsted through December 30th ( I would think it would be extended, but one can never know dfor sure) with perofrmances as follows:
Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.,Friday at 8 p.m.,Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 5 p.m.
Tickets are $55 ( a solid value for a solid show) and can be purchased by visiting the box office, calling 312988-9000, at all Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster, charge by phone at 800-982-2787 or online at www.ticketmaster.com