HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY
I first saw Hershey Felder perform as an old school composer years ago, when he did George Gershwin at the Geffen, and then again recently as Ludwig van Beethoven at the Wallis, where he now appears as Frenchman Claude Debussy, who brought the ethereal Claire de Lune into the world.
This appears to be Hershey’s most personal presentation ever, which he confirmed in his post-show Q-and-A. He usually acts out highlights from the lives and careers of each composer he’s portraying in his Great Composers series, but this time, he does something a bit different. He basically tells the story of himself as a teenager in Paris, but he narrates that autobiography as Debussy. And in-between, his “Debussy” tells his own story, as well. It does get a bit confusing, but the music is so stunning, and both bios so compelling, that I didn’t mind. You just really have to pay attention to the narrative to decipher when he switches tales.
As usual for Felder and The Wallis, (where this one-man show is currently being performed,) it’s all pretty close to perfection. A Paris Love Story features the perfect stage, set, projections, piano-playing, choice of musical pieces, and even background music.
Some people are just born to do what they do, and Hershey Felder is one of them. He’s like an entertaining college professor, who uses storytelling to make it more interesting for his students. And he appears to be one of the most secure, confidant people I’ve ever seen! In this presentation, he even sings a bit, which I never realized is yet one more of his plethora of talents.
That man writes, acts, plays the piano beautifully, (which he pours his heart and soul into,) speaks fluent French, and even designs. No fooling—he designs his own sets!!! OMG. This one is lovely, and lets us know that it’s Paris as soon as we lay eyes on it. He places his piano on a platform in the middle of a bridge across the Seine, complete with old-fashioned lamp lights.
I think the only two things that Hershey Felder did not do for this production of A Paris Love Story are direct it, (that honor belongs to Trevor Hay,) and design the fabulous projections, which Christopher Ash so gorgeously did. Ash gives us birds, bodies of water, and Parisian landmarks, such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Hotel Le Meurice. (My ears perked-up when “Debussy” said that that place has the most incredible hot chocolate. And then I remembered that was prior to 1918, but only after I had already checked-out its modern-day website! Foolish moi.)
All of Felder’s piano playing is glorious and appreciated, but I was especially happy to not just have my ears treated to one of my favorite pieces, the dream-like Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, but also to be reminded that it was written by Debussy! Prior to seeing A Paris Love Story, I could not have told you who composed it. Good thing I was not being asked that question on a quiz show! (That reminds me of that bit on The Honeymooners when Ralph Kramden was going on a musical quiz show, and Ed Norton, who was helping him study, kept playing a bit of Swanee River before all the songs, much to Ralph’s chagrin. And then the very first question on the show was, “Who wrote Swanee River?,” to which Ralph nervously answered, “Ed Norton?”) [Note: Great reference, eh? Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and The Honeymooners in the same paragraph! Where else but right here would that happen?!]
Even if classical music is not your thing, you will still enjoy A Paris Love Story. In his after-curtain talk on opening night, Hershey talked about how music affects us all. That’s exactly what I was thinking about earlier that evening, when I heard Justin Timberlake’s Rock Your Body on the radio, to wake me up from my afternoon nap. So it really doesn’t matter what style of music you’re into—it’s really one of the most affecting mediums for everyone. I heavily suggest you give this show a try.
Just one warning for people (like me) who can’t sit for a long while in a row. The program, (and the Wallis’ website,) say that the production is only an hour and a half. But it’s really more like an hour and forty minutes to begin with, and then Felder takes questions from the audience for another twenty minutes. So be prepared to be sitting for about two hours in a row. (If you have to leave after the curtain call, please make sure to get aisle seats, or sit in the back, so as to not disturb your fellow audience members.)
And here’s a tip–if you like to see a pianist’s hands, sit in the middle section, towards the left.
Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story running through June 16, 2019
The Wallis 9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard Beverly Hills 310-746-4000 www.thewallis.org