“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ October 12, 2015


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Hershey Felder has made a theater career by impersonating famous composers.  Arizona Theatre Company has presented the pianist’s interpretations of “George Gershwin Alone,” “Monsieur Chopin,” and “Beethoven As I Knew Him.”  While these shows have been full of interesting information about the composers, Felder’s latest show, “Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin,” that ATC is now presenting is his best to date.

Berlin’s musical creations are well known to many and the composer’s life story after he immigrated to America at age five with his Russian family parallels many who settled this nation during the early 20th century.

There’s also much pain in Berlin’s life and that he conquered the setbacks to become successful makes his life fascinating.  An early love he married passed away shortly after their union.  There were children who died causing great heartbreak but Berlin got a winning second chance at romance that kept him fulfilled for 63 years as he and his second wife had children who are still alive.  Felder’s earlier shows are about famous composers who’s music is well known, but it is harder to relate to their lives.

And Berlin’s songs written for Broadway musicals, movies, and as hit parade selections are popular.  It’s hard not to be roused by “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “God Bless America,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”  While Felder provides a generous selection of Berlin’s classics in his almost two hour toe-tapping tribute, many great Berlin tunes are never acknowledged.

This Berlin portrait is vibrant and, like his past tributes, Felder utilizes his expert piano playing skills and acceptable imitative vocals to make the history alive.  He’s filled his new show with slides of classic Berlin moments including pictures of Ethel Merman starring in his musical hit “Call Me Madam” and Felder also selects well documented comments like Berlin’s challenges when he first wrote a Broadway musical for Merman.  Felder also explains Berlin’s difficulty of writing a song hit for Fred Astaire.  These true stories make Berlin a very real person.

“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a joyous celebration of the great American composer’s rich life and vital tunes.  The show continues through October 25 at the Herberger Theater Center.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A