While many may claim that if they ever see snow again it will be too soon, there is an unavoidable pull to the strains of “White Christmas” even if you do not decorate a tree in your house.
Through July 26, acclaimed and multi-talented performer Hershey Felder will bring the life and times of the songs perhaps unlikely composer- the Jewish Russian immigrant who would take the name Irving Berlin – back to life in his latest personable impersonation, “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin,” at Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theatre.
Having wowed audiences in Boston and around the world with his tune-filled takes on the legendary likes of Beethoven, Bernstein, Chopin, and Gershwin, Felder went back to the Great American Songbook to choose his latest subject.
“Surprisingly, people don’t know a whole lot about Irving Berlin,” Felder observes, “and are shocked at his body of work, his personal life, and his contributions to what is America today.”
When asked why he chose Berlin, Felder explains that it is what he calls “the comprehensive genius of his artistry” that most attracted him to the man and his story. He did everything,” Felder suggests, “from lyric writing to perfection in song creation to musical structure.” Add to this the fact that Berlin is not known to have ever had a formal music lesson (or even much formal education) and the short “singing waiter” stands even taller as one who, Felder says, “learned from everything he came across.”
“People make a big mistake if they think all of his talent just somehow showed up,” Felder cautions. “From the very beginning, he was a very serious student of musical structure, song and performance. His lessons were not formal; they were from every life and artistic experience – the best kind really – and the result is pure creation, time and time again.”
For those who were fortunate enough to experience Berlin during his long and storied life or those who are just now coming to learn of and appreciate his humble musical genius, Felder’s show is a revelation. During the show, Felder’s Berlin waltzes audience members from the depths of anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia to New York’s Lower East Side and then on to all of America and the world, Along the way, fans are treated to masterful performances of such Berlin favorites “God Bless America” and “White Christmas,” which is more than tolerable in Felder’s capable hands.
Whether he is inviting people to a private piano lesson with Chopin or on to the podium for Bernstein’s first night with the conductor’s baton, Felder says that the preparation does not differ, if only in that “one needs tons of it, and it never ends.” When asked to summarize his latest subject, Felder credits Berlin’s long-lasting fame and importance to his generosity of spirit, which he sees as “the result of being grateful.” In this way, Berlin apparently has something in common not only with Felder but with his audiences too.
– Matt Robinson
Tickets are $35-75. Check website below for times.
219 Tremont St., Boston, 617-824-8000 https://artsemerson.org