What held it all together was Felder's lively narrative thread, combining biographical material about the songwriters with stories from his own life and experience. He's a terrific story-teller, in the tradition of the irrepressibly loquacious Jew--and he makes much of the Jewish heritage he shares with many of his beloved composers. In largely WASP-y Orange County, California, it seemed refreshingly bold yet totally unpretentious. Being Jewish is simply another of his passions. He loves it, loves the family rituals and the quirkiness of the Yiddish language, loves the stereotypes as well as the peculiarities of Jewishness, loves the history and the traditions that crossed the Atlantic from Eastern Europe--and is ever mindful of the Holocaust. It is remarkable--and fitting--hat he can allude respectfully to that dark time even as he celebrates the joyfully creative Jewish gene. Such is the complexity of the human experience in the world.
This work, to Felder, is clearly a deeply personal commitment. He is an enormously (and multi-!) talented performer, who manages to break down that "fourth wall" and speak heart-to-heart to his audience, drawing them into his narrative by revealing his own passions with seeming artlessness and finding that authentic place of common human experience that we all share. It's a bit like watching a magician who shows his audience how it's done even as he's doing it. He moves us easily from the farcical to the comic, from the sentimental to the genuinely tragic without our feeling manipulated along the way.
Toward the end of the "Great American Songbook," Felder explores the source of his need to reach out and touch other human beings in this way: it lies, he explains, in part in the experience of watching his mother die of cancer at a very young age, and in learning from her passion for life, her generosity of spirit, her courage, and her love. It is a moving tribute, and one that allows him to dim the lights, at the very end, without sentimentality, on a note of hopefulness and inner joy.