Pianist Hershey Felder returns to Berkeley Rep to take on the role of yet another iconic figure from musical history: songwriter Irving Berlin. With classics like “God Bless America” and “White Christmas,” Berlin left his stamp on American popular songs. The one-man show runs through the end of April.
There’s more information about the show at the Berkeley Rep website.
One challenge for Felder is that his subject was neither a gifted singer or piano player – and so he approached the music he’d play in more of an idealized way, as Berlin might have heard it in his head: “I had to figure out a way to make these things feel very virtuosic without yet showing anybody that they are. The fingers are going, but at the same time it’s not too showy… Part of the fun of this show is how do you create a character – especially if you’re a musician and you want to play music – that doesn’t really sing and doesn’t really play, but really sings and really plays.” Berlin could only play songs in one key on the piano, and so he got an instrument that could transpose by shifting the physical keys right or left to play different strings. The framing device of the show centers around an event from late in Berlin’s life: “Carolers gathered in front of his house, and they would sing to him every Christmas Eve. And most of the time he would shut the blinds, but one year he invited them in and he talked to them.” The set, complete with Christmas tree, is dressed to be like Berlin’s Beekman Place apartment. Even before he had written White Christmas, which would be the best-selling single record of all time sung by Bing Crosby, he was already internationally known for his Alexander’s Ragtime Band.