As many of you may know, I’m not a fan of one-person shows, (which is sort-of weird since my own TV show was one. Actually, Clarence the Singing Dog, was on it with me. But he didn’t say too much.)
So, therefore, I’ve missed several of Hershey Felder’s one-man tributes to famous composers. And I would have skipped his latest production, as well, where he depicts Beethoven, were it not at the Wallis in Beverly Hills. That theatre has very rarely disappointed me in their choices of what theatrical entertainment to bring us, so I decided to give this show a try.
And I’m really glad I did! Beethoven is all positives, on every level.
On perhaps the most shallow one, the theatre’s air-conditioning is fabulous, (actually, bring a wrap!,) and there are tons of eateries in walking distance! So it’s an overall happy summer experience.
As to the production values of this offering, I was shocked to find an actual set design, rather than the plain bare stage I was expecting. That made the show exciting from the get-go. And as it went along, there were occasional interesting projections, which gave us something more to look at than just one actor.
In case you’re not familiar with him, Hershey Felder is known for doing these shows about master composers. He tells each one’s story in about ninety concise minutes, which include several beautiful piano selections, performed by him, of course.
In Beethoven, he portrays not only that poor, unfortunate genius, but also the narrator of the tale, Dr. Gerhard von Breuning, upon whose writings this text by Felder is based. I do love his speech, no matter what accent he’s affecting at the time. It’s a refreshing theatre occurrence to understand every word spoken during a performance!
And the man clearly loves to play the piano! He pours his heart and soul into every moment at the keyboard! And it’s also apparent that his goal is to educate his audiences about the old masters. His shows are like non-painful college courses. How many other people get to combine all their loves into one career?! Not many, so Hershey’s shows are impressive.
Especially to me, someone who hit my zenith as a pianist with Putt, Putt, Putt, Putt, Putt, Putt, Putt Goes The Flashy Speedboat. (But I do make it my own.)
The whole presentation is very soothing. You can even close your eyes for a lot of it, and just let the beautiful music wash over you. The sections of the narrative where he’s just playing the piano are magical.
On the night I saw the show, you could hear a pin drop during Hershey’s last number, Fur Elise, which was discovered and published forty years after Beethoven died. I was waiting for it all night because it’s the most advanced piece of music I could play back in the day. (Okay, I exaggerated about The Speed Boat. I can really play that entire first Schaum green piano book, and a bit more. Which still is not saying much. But I hated my first teacher when I was a kid, so I pretended to not be able to play much. Until my parents finally realized to hire an attractive young male teacher for me! Hence, all the way up to Fur Elise!!!) But I do wish that Hershey would mention the title of that bagatelle for the audience members who may not know it, which I assume are most of them. (I actually wish he would do that with everything he plays, in case we love it so much that we want to seek it out, or are just curious.)
By the way, if you want to see Hershey’s hands play the piano, (which is a treat, whether or not you’re musical yourself,) make sure to sit on the left side of the middle section of the orchestra. I had a fabulous view of the action right there.
And, luckily for my fellow Southern Californians, you all have time to see Beethoven for yourselves because it’s been extended. But this week only, so do not sleep on it!
Beethoven running through August 19, 2018
Wallis Annenberg Theater For The Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard Beverly Hills 310-746-4000 www.thewallis.org