By Alanna Maya
Award-winning performer and San Diego favorite Hershey Felder (“George Gershwin Alone,” “Maestro Bernstein”) brings to life the remarkable story of Irving Berlin at the La Jolla Playhouse. Featuring the composer’s most popular and enduring songs, Felder’s signature creation of character and musical performance will make this evening with Irving Berlin an unforgettable one for the whole family. We talked with Felder last month about the show and his approach to performing.
L’CHAIM Magazine: What can audiences expect to see at this performance?
Hershey Felder: It’s a traditional play in the sense that I am playing a character, but I am playing a musical character, so I recreate the circumstances and the instruments that they play. A lot of people know what I do now because I have been around for long enough, but it is a certain kind of style of combining music at a very high level with acting at a very high level and performance as storytelling, so it is a comprehensive style.
L’CHAIM: Are you drawn to performing this way for any reason?
HF: I am drawn to it because I am actor, pianist, musician and also a writer. I am fascinated with these lives and these lives who contributed; fascinated with immigrant Jews who came and made good; who gave a country a sound, and who inspired generations of musicians.
Between all these characters, the thing that I share with them is that I am an immigrant. I was born in Canada, and although I have lived in the US all my life, I know what the experience is to come from another country and create something that becomes a part of the fabric—even though it is a small part of the fabric—is, and that is something that I find attractive and interesting. I am able to understand that portion of the character.
L’CHAIM: Do you ever get tired of this type of performance?
HF: You don’t get bored because there is a responsibility you are not allowed to get bored. You take on the responsibility of the piece and you have to do it; you have to do it to the best of your ability and do it well. It is very important to me to bring a high level performance [to audiences]. I know how lucky I am to have this career, and recognizing that I don’t fool around. It is very important to my ethical responsibility to the whole thing.
L’CHAIM: What does it mean to you that so many popular Christmas songs were written by Jews and what is it like performing those songs on stage?
HF: Well, I perform this show all year round, and no matter what time of year it is, people sing along to “White Christmas” in the middle of summer.
I think popular culture is important and it’s not Christian culture, I think to these guys it was their popular culture. It’s what they came to, and I think these songs could have been written by a non-Jewish person, but a Jewish person was able to see it from the outside, and clearly could see what was important about it. I don’t think it is a Jewish thing or a not Jewish thing, I think it is just a good composer thing.
L’CHAIM: how do you give back to the community?
HF: In every city that I am in, I usually give master classes, more or less at the university level but for gifted students anywhere; and when I have time, my gift is to be able to advance anybody’s career who I can with help through master classes and the like.
Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin plays at the La Jolla Playhouse Dec. 16–Jan. 3 with special holiday performances Dec. 23, 24, 31 and Jan. 2 & 3. For tickets or more information, visit LaJollaPlayhouse.org.