I wasn’t so sure what to think as I walked up to the Pasadena Playhouse the other night to see George Gershwin Alone, the one-man show created by pianist, actor ad composer Hershey Felder and focused entirely on the works of George Gershiwn. I do love theatre and music (and, most of all, musical theatre), but the combination of the fact that I was one of maybe twenty attendees under the age of 70 and the perhaps embarrassing truth that I really didn’t know much Gershiwn had me wondering whether this show would be my cup of tea.
Within ten minutes of Felder’s animated trip back to the golden age of jazz, it became clear that I was wrong to doubt that the music and life story of one of our country’s most influential composers could successfully bridge the generation gap. The show was a delightful combination of history and music (if only school history lessons could be taught this way), and Felder is quite obviously an expert on everything Gershwin. He transitioned back and forth across the stage from chair to piano bench and interspersed songs with narrative, weaving together the personal story of the man and of the controversial, radical movement that was jazz music.
I walked out with three main realizations. First, the older people at the show (and it was an impressive turnout for a Tuesday) were there for a reason: Gershwin’s music is complex yet catchy and defines an important era of American musical history. Also, of course, I knew many more Gershiwn songs than I thought—they’re part of the culture. When it was time for the audience sing-along at the end of the show, I could join in, even if I didn’t know all the lyrics. And finally, I found myself longing to have lived in this era, when, as Felder told the audience, no one went home after a show, but instead gathered around a piano with glasses of champagne (at least before Prohibition) and sang until 3 in the morning. Sure, maybe that image is a little romanticized, but, based on the feel of the music, I’m choosing to believe it.
George Gershwin Alone
Through May 9
They Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena
$39-$100, 626.356.7529, pasadenaplayhouse.org