George Gershwin Alone | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

George Gershwin Alone 

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Hershey Felder's splendid one-man portrait of George Gershwin distills the essence of the short-lived composer and his enduring music. Skilled as an actor, singer, and pianist, writer-performer Felder reveals the links between Gershwin's work and his personality: ambitious, charming, passionate, and playful, yet imbued with a melancholy loneliness that adds emotional depth to compositions ranging from "The Man I Love" and "But Not for Me" to An American in Paris and Porgy and Bess. Like Gershwin's music, Felder's show powerfully blends joy and pathos, from the haunting opening notes of the aria "I Loves You, Porgy" to the bombastic climax of Rhapsody in Blue and the irresistible sentimentality of Felder's sing-along encore. Seated at a grand piano with his hands reflected in an overhead mirror, Felder (who bears a passing resemblance to Gershwin) demonstrates the tricks and techniques with which the composer developed short, simple melodic fragments into hit songs and complex compositions that boldly melded African-American, Russian-Jewish, Cuban, and French-impressionist influences. George Gershwin Alone celebrates its subject's life but also takes stock of its tragedies: Gershwin's ill-fated romance with a woman who wouldn't play second fiddle to his real love, his own music; his denigration by shortsighted classical music critics and anti-Semitic bigots; and the brain tumor that killed him at 38, robbing America of one of its greatest artists. Through 11/21: Wed 2 and 8 PM, Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Royal George Theatre Center, 1641 N. Halsted, 312-988-9000, $37.50-$45.

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