Monday, January 31, 2011

The Entertainer

I mentioned the other day that we had planned a return visit to see Hershey Felder at the Laguna Playhouse, this time to join in his Great American Songbook Singalong. We went last night, and enjoyed a hugely entertaining evening. Encouraging us to sing along with sly cajolements and occasional friendly scoldings, Felder took his audience on a tour of popular favorites by the likes of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Gershwin, mostly from the great musicals and movies familiar to everyone who grew up during the forties and fifties--an age group that included most of us gathered there for the evening! The songs were gleaned from Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz...--all guaranteed to jog still meaningful memories for many years back, and of course to tug at the heartstrings.

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.

2 comments:

WITTY WALKERS said...

Peter, a late comment on yr Arab Street. The fears you express shared by so many in our civilised world are underdstandable and yet one cannot but hope that in Egypt, unlike the experience last year in Iran where the protests of the mainly young people were brutally crushed, the young, asking for the same as their Iranian brothers (an end to the tyranny to their extreme Islam leaders), will achieve what they are calling for, an end to tyranny and corruption,the beginning of a new life, freedom, democracy, call it what you want, but I bet they do not want, and hopefully will not allow, a tyranny of extremists we all fear. I bet they want what we are all so fortunate to have. And if they get it in Egypt why could that not happen throughout the whole of the Arab world!! Michael

PeterAtLarge said...

Yes, Michael! I absolutely agree with you on this. The reason for my fear is based in the power of existing organizational structures to co-opt the popular will and drive it in unintended directions, as happened in Iran.