Hershey One Note

Last night, we went to see our penultimate (i.e., next to last) production at the Pasadena Playhouse, George Gershwin: Alone (GGA). “George Gershwin: Alone” is part of a four musical series called “The Composer Sonata”. It consists of three movements and a coda: “Beethoven: As I Knew Him“, “Monsieur Chopin“, “George Gershwin: Alone“, and “Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein“. All of these shows feature a book by Hershey Felder, with music by the indicated artists.

George Gershwin: Alone” purports to be a one-man show that tells the life story of George Gershwin. Although in some sense a jukebox musical, it doesn’t have the typical larger cast, nor does it have reenactments of scenes in the life of the group. If I was to try to come up with a close comparison, it would be the one-woman show on Ethel Merman done by Klea Blackhurst. In other words, the show is structured as a single performer (Hershey Felder, in this case) telling the target’s life story, punctuated with the songs from that story. But unlike Blackhurst’s show, which discusses the life of Merman in detail, Felder’s presentation on Gershwin was superficial, concentrating most heavily on the music, not the man, and on the post-Rhapsody period. About the only mention of the extensive Broadway career of Gershwin was the singular mention of Merman and “I’ve Got Rhythm”—and this seemed to be done primarily to get a joke comparing Merman and Jolson (who introduced Gershwin’s first famous song, “Swanee”). Although the production did cover the highlights of Gershwin’s career (popular songs, Broadway, Rhapsody, the Concerto, Porgy and Bess, and his Hollywood work), it never gave the sense of why the Gershwin’s were one of the most popular composing teams of the 1920s and 1930s, and why they had such an impact on American music. In particular, it never gave mention of Gershwin’s targeted political nature, evidenced in shows such as “Strick Up The Band”, “Of Thee I Sing”, and “Let Them Eat Cake”. It scratched the surface of what Gershwin was and the music he gave the world. On the up-side, Felder does a good job of telling the story he tells, and seems to know Gershwin’s life intimantly. He is a virtuoso at playing Gershwin’s music, especially “Rhapsody in Blue”, which takes up the last 10 minutes of the formal show.

The best part of the show was not the formal show itself, but the aftershow. In the tradition of Gershwin, Felder hosts a party at the theatre immediately after the bows. This includes crowding the audience (virtually) around the piano and singing along (“Embrace me, you sweet embracable you…”). It also includes having the audience suggest songs from the Gershwin catalog to sing (in our case, it included “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, and “Summertime” — he nixed “Strike Up the Band” because he didn’t have the music (only for the UCLA version), and “Lady Be Good” because it was in a register too difficult for the audience to sing. He also sang a humerous song that Gershwin and Berlin wrote. He also used this time to talk about his new show, “An American Story” about the surgeon who treated Lincoln, and how merch (including advance copies of the CD of that show) would be available in the patio, with proceeds going to the Playhouse.

The show did not give the feeling of a Pasadena Playhouse production. It seemed more like “FDR“, a imported show that was brought into the Playhouse to help fill out the season’s slots after the bankruptcy. Hopefully the next show, “Twist“, won’t have that feeling.

George Gershwin: Alone” was directed by Joel Zwick. The scenic design by Yael Pardess was simple: a grand piano, a table stacked with music, a chair and a light, and some pictures of sheet music. The lighting design by Michael T. Gilliam, assisted by Margaret Hartmann, was relatively basic (c’mon, what was being lit was a piano!). Matt Marsden was Production Manager and Technical Director. Gigi Garcia was the Production Stage Manager, assisted by Nate Genung. I should note that much of this production team were not Playhouse regulars, but were staff from Eight-Eight Entertainment (I’d link, but Google thinks the site is compromised), the production company for “George Gershwin: Alone“—this served to highlight the sense of this being an imported production.

The last performance of “George Gershwin: Alone” is tonight, Sunday, May 8, 2011.

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced their next season. Suprisingly, for a theatre coming out of bankruptcy, they didn’t do this heavily during the show. There was no announcement during the show of the program; there was no insert in the program; there was no full-page ad on the season. Instead, there was a heavily textual 1/3rd page column on the last page of the program-specific material. So I’ll be similarly low-key: you can find a full description in this post. It consists of “South Street” (September 2011), “Pastoral” (November 2011″, “Art” (January 2012), “The Heiress” (April 2012), and a summer musical, which will either be “Peggy Sue Got Married” or “The Nutty Professor”. We’re not subscribing; we may go to particular individual shows.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend sees us at Van Nuys High School for the “Collabor8 Dance Festival”, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May brings us to “Gypsy… Stripped” at West Coast Ensemble (specifically at the Theatre of Arts Arena Stage in Hollywood) The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, but most of June is lost to the college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl, pending ticketing); “Shrek” (July 23 or 24, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August will bring “Doubt” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20. The remainder of August is currently open.