The incredible talent of Mr. Hershey Felder – Venice

Venice – Tell Hershey Felder it is not easy. Pianist, actor, director and playwright known for his interpretations of classical and American composers on overseas musical stages, he is above all an artist – as the magazine called him American Theater – ‘which belongs to a category of its own’.

We meet him in Venice for the presentation of his latest work: “Chopin and Liszt in Paris a film that stages the story of the rivalry and relationships of two of the greatest piano composers who ever lived in Europe in the nineteenth century. It is not a film in the traditional sense of the term and it is not a documentary. The one written, directed and performed on stage by Hershey Felder is a theatrical show and a musical tale that stages the life story of the two protagonists in music and in words, all filmed in the places in Paris where the characters lived. Alongside Felder, who plays Franz Liszt, another great piano virtuoso of international fame, Boris Giltburg who brings the genius Frederic Chopin to the stage and a cast that sees Debi Mazar in the role of George Sand, Sally George in the role of Princess Carolyn Wittgenstein and Jonathan Silvestri in the part of Eugene Delacroix.

His music shows took this form – that of the movie to be streamed on the platform Hershey Felder Presents – during the most difficult period of the pandemic, just when Felder had moved to live in Italy with his wife, the former Canadian prime minister, Kim Campbell.

Hershey on your site you define your shows ‘musical storytelling’. Can you tell us how you came to this original show formula?

“It is the story of the meeting of two of my great passions, which I have cultivated since childhood: acting and the piano. Two worlds that for many years have been separated and that, partly by luck, partly by chance, finally met when I was 27 years old.
At that time I was working for Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation. Speaking French and Yiddish, I found myself collecting oral testimonies from some Holocaust survivors. A story that struck me a lot was that of Helmuth Spryzcer who was forced to entertain Nazi soldiers in Auschwitz by whistling the melody of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ one of the most famous pieces composed by Gershwin. I made a musical tale of it and managed to convince the Gershwin family, who initially were against this dark tale of life, to let me stage the show where I would have acted, played Gershwin and staged the whole story. It was a small theater on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, but in a short time, thanks to word of mouth, the show became a great success so that one night at the theater Neil Simon came, the one after Mel Brooks or Annette Bening with her husband Warren Beatty .. . and countless famous people ”

I saw one of your shows, that “Gershwin Alone” you recorded at the Verdi Theater in Florence in 2021 …

“It is one of my best known shows, I have brought it over three thousand times to the stage in prestigious theaters on Broadway, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington. What you saw is the concert recording that we streamed live in September last year. It’s a one man show I bring to the stage, playing, singing and reciting some of Gershiwin’s most famous songs from “The Man I Love” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”, through the hits of “An American In Paris” and ” Porgy and Bess “, up to a full performance of Rhapsody In Blue”

Three thousand representations .. it seems a huge number ..

“My life before the pandemic, for 27 years, was always on stage. Every night for 320 shows a year. Not only Gershwin of course. I have put together many productions telling the music and the life of some of the greatest composers and musicians of all time. From Leonard Bernstein to Irvin Berlin, Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy to name a few. I made my first attempt at a live streaming show in May 2020 with “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin“… directly from my home. The idea was to help and team up with some of the theaters, including the San Diego Repertory Theater, with which I normally collaborate, bringing my shows since with the pandemic the whole sector was stopped in Italy as in America. This was also an immediate success, we in the first season we sold over 80,000 $ 50 tickets for that show, raising $ 4 million in an operation that went to support theaters and artists in distress due to the pandemic, as well as several organizations. in Florence and surroundings. So I continued with these live events with “Hershey Felder as Beethoven“To finally move on to the formula of the actual film with”Dante and Beatrice in Florence”A show for which I wrote both the script and the soundtrack, I co-directed and where I played two roles in addition to playing the piano and singing. Of course, even Florence and its wonderful places become the set where the story takes place. Italy is the ideal stage, a natural set, where many stories can be told. And it’s probably the only place where I could have created a film company of this type. It is the beauty of Italy that allows you to create the many worlds of many great artists by traveling to wonderful places, in extraordinary cities like Florence or Venice that allow you to set a multitude of stories. Here, too, the formula for reaching the public is video on demand. “

How do you choose the stories to tell?

“Every show of mine, every encounter with an artist has its origin. It all starts from the studio of the artist I want to tell. A research that, starting from music, tries to reconstruct the stories that led the artist to write the songs he composed, in that particular moment of his life. And it’s not just a matter of playing and interpreting these music, but of getting into the role of the protagonist, with appropriate clothes and hairstyles, giving them body and voice … “

Your talents range in many fields, piano and acting above all… where do you start?

“I like to quote an anecdote attributed to George Gershwin’s brother, Ira… when asked, does the music or the lyrics come first? his answer was that contracts came first! I had to create my own theater company very early to produce my plays which no theater wanted to take the risk of funding. If the business is in place, if you are able to pay for your work and those who work with you, it is a good place to start. Instead a lot of artists spend their time turning, turning, fixing this page and fixing that page and fixing the next page and that’s okay, but if there’s no end … if you’re stuck rewriting your script it’s a bit like being eternally in hell. The truth is, I never wanted anyone else to decide for me whether I was allowed to tell a story or not. Being an entrepreneur of myself is more risky, but it offers me a lot of freedom in return “


Hershey Felder’s films and shows are also available to the Italian public on his website Hershey Felder Presents ( The formulas are the most varied and include the sale of season tickets and the sale of individual titles on demand. Among the most interesting productions “Violetta”, based on Giuseppe Verdi’s Traviata and “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna”, based on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.

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