A few weeks ago I had the best time. So much fun. Such a nostalgia trip. Just what the doctor ordered after such a sorrowful time in Pittsburgh. My husband and I went to Pittsburgh Public Theater to see Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin; a one man show about the life and music of America’s most prolific song writer.
Hershey Felder is a very talented pianist well versed in many musical genres and who has put together similar shows about Beethoven, Gershwin, Chopin and Leonard Bernstein. In this case, he portrayed Irving Berlin in a business suit, a dark wig , heavy eyebrows and big framed glasses which, if you look at a photo of Berlin at any age, is what you see. He spoke directly to the audience from a set that was made to look like an elegant living room looking out through draped windows at a winter scene complete with falling snow. Of course there was a grand piano. The premise of the show is contrived, but the music sure wasn’t.
We came to understand through dialogue, photos and some movie excerpts that were projected onto the living room wall about Berlin’s life beginning as part of a desperately poor immigrant family and his rise to remarkable success. Berlin, with his innate musical talent and vision of a good life in the America he loved sincerely, beat the odds and starting very small and unnoticed, wrote his first hit in 1911 at age 23. It was Alexander’s Rag Time Band, the beginning of our musical journey with Mr. Felder. Berlin was not unnoticed after that because the hits just kept coming: A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody; Always; White Christmas; God Bless America; This is the Army, Mr. Jones; Puttin’ on the Ritz; There’s No Business Like Show Business; Blue Skies; Anything You Can Do; Easter Parade. Over 1000 songs all together.
Mr. Felder played and sang tune after tune, interspersing Berlin’s history with the history of the time in the United States, and best of all for me, asked the audience to sing along with some of his most memorable songs and sing we did. Even my husband sang, and that was remarkable! The audience was not a young audience, but it wasn’t weighted heavily on the older side either. I do believe all of us enjoyed the evening equally. This music is sentimental with easy to understand lyrics and melodies that remain with us. Irving Berlin died in 1989 at the age of 101. And I will remember him…..Always.