“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” – Play Review

Inspiring story of “America’s Composer” Irving Berlin comes to life in the musical “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin”, currently playing at www.theatreworks.org .  Directed by Trevor Hay, based on lyrics and music of Irving Berlin and based on a book by Hershey Felder, this absolutely must-see performance comes to life through incredible acting and music of Hershey Felder.  


Though born in Russia, Berlin embraced his new homeland and began writing songs in his youth, which made him “a legend” before he turned thirty.  Many of his songs reflect the challenging atmosphere in the country as he lived through World War I and then the Great Depression and then World War II.  Besides chronicling the historical events, his compositions marked each stage of his life and all his relationships, through the “gift of a song”.  At the tender age of 13, when his father passed away, Berlin left his home to make his mark on the world.  He married beautiful young girl Dorothy, who passed away soon after their honeymoon.  At the insistence of his brother-in-law, he wrote this touching song.  

I lost the sunshine and roses
I lost the heavens of blue
I lost the beautiful rainbow
I lost the morning dew
I lost the angel who gave me
Summer the whole winter through
I lost the gladness that turned into sadness
When I lost you

Felder says, though his lyrics, Berlin wrote, “basic truths, muscially told”.  Entire audience erupts into singing when Felder sings the song below and Felder says he loves the audience singing along.

Hip hip hooray
We haven’t got long to stay
So how about one bouquet
For the Navy?

Berlin composed a song to give a comic perspective on military life, shortly after he was drafted.   Although he composed the song Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” without commercial intent, it became popular with the soldiers and it eventually appeared in three different Broadway shows and Berlin made $83,000 on it.  

Few years later, Berlin met Ellin Mackay, 15 years his junior, and a heiress, who was disowned by her father for marrying Berlin.  They remained together for 62 years, until Dorothy’s death at the age of 85.  Ellin and Irwin had several children and Berlin composed some great songs to mark the birth of each of their children.  Berlin was a savvy businessman as well.  He built and owned The Music Box Theatre on Broadway and bought back the rights to all his songs.

In 1933, there were 24 lynchings in the South.  Berlin put on a show on Broadway to tell their story and it was a huge success.  During his long lifespan and particularly towards the end of his life, Berlin went through phases when he did not compose anything and lived as a recluse.  And yet, during his life, Berlin wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including several for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films.  Eight times, several films with his songs were nominated for Academy Awards.  Here’s a song that was made famous by Fred Astaire dancing to the lyrics.

 Heaven… I’m in heaven,

And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.

When US entered World War II, Berlin composed God bless America, land that I love, and after it was sung by Kate Smith, it became an instant hit.  In a move that marks his love for his new homeland and a mark of his generosity and grace, Berlin drafted instant legal instructions that are in effect to this day, donating all proceeds from the royalties to Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs in impoverished and disadvantaged areas.  So far, more than $10 million have been distributed, as per his request.  

Berlin produced his last musical, “Mr. President”, when he was 74 years of age.  The original 1962 Broadway production ran for 265 performances.

On Hershey Felder
Hershey Felder, 47, a Canadian-born artist does solo shows across America, on great composers like Gershwin, Bach, and Beethoven and he explains and embodies them and plays their music.  Combining his phenomenal musical genius with superb storytelling, In Irwing Berlin, Felder has created character portrayal and musical performance that is nothing short of dazzling.   “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a must-see show.  In addition to interesting and gripping aspects of Berlin’s personal life, it weaves the history of the country, and of show business, in the narration, that is entertaining and endearing, and ultimately moving.

“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” will be running at www.theatreworks.org till February, 14 .  This is an absolutely not-to-miss performance of this theater season in the bay area, where you will come away inspired, entertained, and awed.  Additionally,  there is a special one-night only presentation of Hershey Felder’s Great American Songbook Sing-Along, on February, 15.  

Enjoy lyrics to my favorite and Berlin’s famous song below.

There’s no business like show business like no business I know
Everything about it is appealing, everything that traffic will allow
Nowhere could you get that happy feeling when you are stealing that extra bow

There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low
Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold
Still you wouldn’t change it for a sack of gold, let’s go on with the show

The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the clerk
Are secretly unhappy men because
The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the clerk
Get paid for what they do but no applause.
They’d gladly bid their dreary jobs goodbye for anything theatrical and why?

There’s no business like show business and I tell you it’s so
Traveling through the country is so thrilling, standing out in front on opening nights
Smiling as you watch the theater filling, and there’s your billing out there in lights

There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low
Angels come from everywhere with lots of jack, and when you lose it, there’s no attack
Where could you get money that you don’t give back? let’s go on with the show

(There’s no business like show business like no business I know)
You get word before the show has started that your favorite uncle died at dawn
Top of that, your pa and ma have parted, you’re broken-hearted, but you go on

(There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low)
Yesterday they told you you would not go far, that night you open and there you are
Next day on your dressing room they’ve hung a star, let’s go on with the show!!



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