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Curtain Up: Maestro: Playing Bernstein


By Scott Fields, Illustrations by Joseph Adolphe

Published Oct 1, 2010 9:00 AM

Over the past decade, Hershey Felder has convinced audiences at Westwood's Geffen Playhouse that he is George Gershwin, Fryderyk Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven. But can he be one of the most prodigious American musical talents of the 20th century — legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein?


Although evidence won't be available until this latest of Felder's one-man shows opens at the Geffen next month, if precedent is any guide, the answer will be a resounding "yes."

"This is a marriage of two very special musician performers," says Gil Cates, the producing director of the Geffen, former dean of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, and Emmy Award-winning producer of the Academy Awards broadcast for 14 different years. "Bernstein was a child prodigy, and his story is amazing. He had a passion for music and proselytized about it everywhere he went, and that's something he and Felder have in common."

Cates has great respect for Felder because "any time you have a presentation on stage about an accomplished musician, whoever is playing the part has to be a gifted actor as well as a gifted musician. It's a very rare group of people, and in Hershey's case, it's amplified because he writes it all himself, too."

Felder sees the iconic, longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic and composer of West Side Story, On The Town and many other classics as a man who "came into the age of television and actually was able to disseminate the art and craft of music-making all over the world through recording and through immediate broadcast," he says. "He was not only a great ambassador for music, a great ambassador for art, and an ambassador for America, he was very much a visionary."

Felder says he has been working on bringing Bernstein to life "in such a way where we're getting to see what's behind the show," he says. "It's not necessarily a backstage look as much as it is making it real, absolutely the kind of real that an artist goes through in order to bring their work to the fore ... Leonard Bernstein was all about the creation of art, not just the exposition of it."

Hershey Felder in "Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein." Nov. 2–Dec. 12. Geffen Playhouse. For tickets or more information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit