|The following diary tells the story of how George Gershwin Alone came to be. The details are taken from my writing sketchbooks as well as my personal date books. Thank you for reading.
THE CREATION OF "GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE"
Although my first public performance of George Gershwin’s A Rhapsody in Blue took place in 1985, when I was sixteen, the actual work on the play, George Gershwin Alone, began in September of 1998. I was inspired to create a piece that would bring to life America’s great composer, because of an unlikely event that took place three years earlier, in of all places, Auschwitz, Poland. Following that event, I spent a good deal of time studying the life and work of George Gershwin, and once I was comfortable with my level of historical and practical information required to create such a role, I began by asking myself two simple questions. Firstly, if I were George Gershwin, what would I want to tell my public at the end of my life? And secondly, if I, Hershey Felder, musician, composer, theatre-lover, had two hours with George Gershwin, what would I want him to tell me?
But who was George Gershwin? What did he care about? What did he love? What drove him? What inspired him? What saddened him?
I returned to my studies, rereading every available Gershwin biography. I sought out any biographers who were still alive, and was fortunate enough to have discussions with Ed Jablonski and Robert Kimball, as well as many others, some of whom were intimates of the Gershwin families. I spent time with anyone still alive who knew George personally, specifically, Kitty Carlisle Hart. I copied pages of George’s orchestral scores by hand in an effort to understand his musical thinking. I studied his recorded playing and his recorded radio shows for CBS from 1934-35. The Gershwin family graciously opened up the Gershwin Archives to me in Washington's Library of Congress which includes George's manuscripts and correspondence, where I touched the actual paper and pencil markings of the first ever written notes of "I Got Rhythm..." I spent time with George's piano and his belongings. I visited every location in the United States that still exists where George either lived or worked. I studied George and Ira’s correspondence as well as their use of language. Most importantly, I studied the structure and then learned to play, every one of George’s pieces of music. I then went back to George’s correspondence and score annotations hoping to find the secret. Where did the talent and ideas come from? What inspired him? I compared details and dates of his letters with dates of good or bad reviews, always looking for something to guide me deeper into the mind and heart of this American genius, always wanting to be one step closer to the man who gave America its sound.
JANUARY 27, 1995
Auschwitz, Poland. Morning of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am an envoy of Steven Spielberg and his SHOAH foundation. I managed to get a coveted position interviewing Holocaust Survivors at the 50th anniversary ceremonies for Steven's archive project. I volunteered for this most important role, and was one of four interviewers sent to Poland. As a child of a family of Holocaust survivors, it was something that I wanted to do. I was ultimately chosen because I speak English, Yiddish, Hebrew, French and have a basic knowledge of Hungarian, German and Russian. I was set to interview the twins who survived Mengele's in vivo experiments. Late on the night of January 27th, I was called to a Café Haus in Kazimirez, the old Jewish town in Cracow, to interview Helmuth Spryczer, Mengele's Jewish gopher boy who later told me that he was called the "Kunstfeifer fun Berlin - The Magical Whistler from Berlin" because he would whistle for the Germans. He told me that he whistled "Rhapsody in Blue" - even though it was banned. He said that George Gershwin was a prophet, because he wrote the "Rhapsody" in 1924, and he wrote the sounds of dying people and trains and so on… and some twenty years later, if one listened to the "Rhapsody in Blue", one could hear the screams of the dying. It was way past midnight, but he asked me to play the "Rhapsody" on the honky-tonk piano in the café. Suddenly the piece took on an unbelievable quality. The "Rhapsody" to me was always, a "fresh and contemporary piece of metropolitan New York." But this man could hear screaming, and suddenly it became clear to me that while this man was whistling the "Rhapsody" for the German guards, people were being gassed. Later I would return to Los Angeles, where I was living at the time, and discover that George had described his "Rhapsody in Blue" as something he composed on a train "while on the way to Boston. I could hear the rattlety bang of the train, the whistle, the click, click, click of the tracks…" The train - the image of cattle-cars - the Holocaust. Helmuth Spryczer could not have known about George’s description. I told this story every opportunity I had.
The "1939" Club – a charitable organization of Holocaust Survivors, asks me to be the guest artist for their annual fundraiser event for "March of the Living" which sponsors a weeklong trip to Poland (Auschwitz) and Israel, for High School students, accompanied by survivors. It is an internationally recognized event. I perform a one-man show for six hundred patrons at Schoenberg Hall in the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts. I tell the story of the survivor who whistled "A Rhapsody in Blue," and then I perform the work in its complete form.
March 11, 1998
SING! A Musical Journey premieres to a sold out audience at Freud Playhouse in Los Angeles. SING! Is based on the lives of two survivors, one of them being Helmuth Spryzcer. Helmuth comes to Los Angeles for the premiere, and I perform his story, and take on his persona to tell it. I follow the story with a complete performance of "A Rhapsody in Blue." The critics and audience laud the show. The critic from the LA Times says "You will never hear the Rhapsody in the same way again."
April 3, 1998
Contacted by Warner/Chappell Music Inc. That Grand Rights were not acquired for the production therefore any further use of the "Rhapsody" in SING! would result in an infringement of copyright. Having made the argument that SING! was a concert with stories, Grand Rights would not be necessary. Unfortunately that didn't prove to be the case.
April 8, 1998
An official request for the Grand Performing Rights of "A Rhapsody in Blue" made to Warner/Chappel.
April 10, 1997
Request officially denied.
I telephone friend Greg Willenborg who is best friends with Michael Feinstein to ask for help with the Gershwin family. Greg has brought Michael to our home, and we have seen him on a number of occasions. Michael Feinstein gives Greg, Leopold Godowsky III's (George Gershwin's nephew, and estate trustee) telephone number who in turn gives it to me.
August 5, 1998
In New York. Staring at the telephone. Do I call Leopold Godowsky III and ask for help? I tell myself not to bother - what's the difference? Shaking, I pick the telephone up. So, Mr. Godowsky will think I'm an idiot. So what. I speak with Leopold and ask him for fifteen minutes of his time. I would be happy to visit him. Anything. He sounds busy, but he'll see me the next day.
August 6, 1998
What am I doing? I spend all day thinking about what I'm going to say. In the afternoon I head over the Godowsky apartment on East 35th Street. I'm early. I walk around the block twice. I finally enter the building. The doorman says that I'm expected. I take the elevator. I ring the doorbell. Why am I doing this?
A handsome man in his fifties answers, and introduces me his very lovely wife. The apartment is cluttered with memorabilia, music, art, a beautiful piano, recordings. Regular New Yorkers. I start to talk at a hundred miles a minute. I show video-tapes of my playing, and drop every name that I've ever worked with. Leopold and Elaine are very nice to me. Leopold plays some of his own compositions for me. On first hearing I thought they had a wonderful openness and style. I told him so. Leopold tells me that he is not against my using the "Rhapsody" with a Holocaust reference, but that I should probably speak to Adam Gershwin, the youngest trustee member who lives in Los Angeles. So happens, Adam is a screenwriter. Elaine gives me Adam's telephone number, (she writes it on a pad from the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, where she had just been. I love the Sacher Hotel. It's where I stay when I visit Vienna - I took this as a good sign) and after two hours, (a little more than our planned fifteen minutes) we said good-bye with the promise to see one another again.
August 8, 1998
Back in LA. I sit on Adam's phone number for quite a few days. Once again, a nervous wreck. I finally make the call. I speak with Adam. He's very nice. I ask him if he and his wife would like to meet Kim (my other half) and me at our house in Los Angeles some time. I know that Adam is a screenwriter, so invite him to a soiree that Kim and I are hosting for film director Norman Jewison on August 9th. Lots of celebrities will be coming. Adam laughs pleasantly, but he and Amy are busy that night. Oh well. We make a plan for another night. August 12th.
August 12, 1998
Adam and a very pregnant Amy come over for dinner. Patricia Prudente from Steinway in NY happens to be in town. She comes for dinner too, brings some friends of hers. After dinner we head into the living room where I perform the role of Helmuth and play the Rhapsody in Blue. Adam and Amy seem impressed. But who knows. I like them. They are very nice people. But I have no idea what they think.
Adam, Amy and I become friendly. I invite them to the beach house that I am renting at the time. We spend the day talking. They're just regular normal people. Adam and I go to "One Pico" a great restaurant in Santa Monica - on the Ocean. Adam thinks that my project can happen. We talk about his becoming a Daddy. I am excited for him. We talk about the baby's name. He says that they decided on Zack or Jack. (They knew that the baby was a guy.) I ask him if they will be hosting a "Bris" (traditional circumcision). He says yes, but that they don't know where. I offer Kim's and my home. I do this, because I know that even if Adam's last name wasn't Gershwin, I would offer the house as well. Kim and I have hosted over five thousand people in our home in four years in Los Angeles. It's part of Kim's job, but most of all, we love entertaining and doing nice things for people. PS - Kim is the Former Prime-Minister of Canada, and at this time the Head of The Council of Women World Leaders, made up of the twenty-eight women who have been head of State or Government, and she is currently the Canadian Consul General in Los Angeles.
Lynn Roth, friend, Screenwriter/Producer/Director most well known for her Movies of the Week, and for producing and writing "Paper Chase", sees a video of SING! She says that I should think of playing the role of George Gershwin himself. She isn't sure that I should set my sights on Broadway with a Holocaust story, playing a sixty-five year old German. She feels that doing the role of George Gershwin, one that has never been done before, would be a brilliant Broadway debut. Terrific, but I had the feeling that the Gershwins weren't going to let this happen all too easily. Lynn began helping me on a script. I presented the idea to Adam with clear instructions that we had become friends, and that a "no" may make me sad, but would never ruin the friendship. I begin work on the script.
October 15, 1998
A reading of the new script at the home of Leah Superstein in Beverly Hills. Leah, a patron of the arts, gathers her friends and I read and play. What seemed funny and interesting on paper, was not nearly that interesting and funny off the paper. Not a happy camper.
October 27, 1998
The Bris of “Noah” Gershwin. What happened to Jack or Zack? Adam said they really thought it would be one of those, but when the baby came out, they took one look at him, and he was quite simply, a Noah. Marc Gershwin, Adam's dad, (and grandpa of the newborn) comes in from NY. Andrea, Adam's mom (and Noah's grandma) lives in LA. I meet them for the first time. Marc and I exchange Gershwin stories, and conversation about the people we have in common. A pleasant fellow. Fifty people gather at the Bris, which we hold in our living room. Following the ceremony we have a sit down dinner in the dining room. Amy's family is just wonderful, and all so beautiful looking. Red hair and freckles. Grandma looks like Mom's sister! Following dinner, once most of the guests have left, I play the Rhapsody for baby Noah. Adam and Marc stand by. Whether I ever get to play the role of George doesn’t really matter (at that moment anyhow.) I felt fulfilled for some reason. Kim missed the fun - she was stuck out of town.
I visit with Mark T. Goldberg at the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts office in Beverly Hills. This office is the headquarters of the Gershwin archives. Mark is their executive and he gives me the tour. A tall imposing fellow, but soft-spoken.
November 27, 1998
Marc, Adam's dad, comes to LA for Thanksgiving with Adam's younger brother, Alex. The day after, Kim and I host a dinner for fifty guests. There is music following dinner (as always). Tyia Wilson sings Gershwin songs. I play more "Rhapsody", Robert Wise and his wife Millicent are with us. (He directed and won Oscars for The Sound of Music, West Side Story among others - and his first job in Hollywood was as editor of Citizen Kane). At the end of the musical soiree, I play "Edelweiss" in honor of Bob. All fifty guests slowly join in. Magic.
December, 1998 - April, 1999
I see a lot of the Gershwin bunch. I visit with them in New York. We see each other socially. I rarely talk about my piece in development. They'll see it when it's time. We all become friends. I have fun with them whenever I see them, and the secret of all this was to be honest with them. If something felt odd, I would share it, ie: I was always aware that they had control of my project, and I let them know that whatever happens, we must make certain that it doesn't affect our friendship.
January 5, 1999
In New York. A visit to Kitty Carlise Hart's apartment on 64th between Madison and Park. Kim and I arrive, and Kitty is rehearsing "September Song" with her accompanist. 89 years old and still performing her show "My Life Upon The Wicked Stage." We sit and talk for a couple of hours about what she remembers about George. She remembers a Passover Seder sung to Jazz with George's sidekick Oscar Levant. She talks about George's and her relationship. I play the Rhapsody for her. I accompany her while she sings Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" then she sings "The Man I Love" while I play. I don't play it well. She has a "fake sheet" of the song - I try to remember George's own accompaniment. Makes for interesting ensemble. Kitty doesn't seem pleased with the result, although she did say that her piano had not heard a Rhapsody like the one I played in a long time…
I am in New York with Lynn Roth. She is helping me with the beginning of my Gershwin project. We visit all the places where George lived and worked. We visit Marc's house. He has American historical treasures in his home. Many of the things we read about in Gershwin history are right there before our eyes. George's original paintings, for example. Magic, again. I tell Marc that I would like to do a reading of the piece in New York for the family and friends. I say that we will host it at Steinway Hall. We choose a date. June 30th seems to work.
April, May, June, 1999
Panic. The script isn't working. Dump it. Start all over. Piles and piles of notes. What is George about? What's the core of the play. Having trouble finding it. I’m ridiculously overweight.
June 20, 1999
Getting closer, but something isn't right. Make changes to the script. There's a story there, but it's hiding.
June 24, 1999
Adam, Amy, Baby Noah, and Mark Goldberg come for dinner and a private reading of the play. Eric Davis, a musician friend is helping out and reading the part of the narrator. We have dinner (chicken Kiev with pepper sauce). We read the current play. Too long. Slows down after the first musical entry. Most difficult to do live for live Gershwins - oy-vey.
June 24, 25, 26
Sleepless. But I find the hook. Michael Donaldson, attorney for the project, is helpful. He has good insight into writing character. I discover the secret (of the moment, at any rate…) Less history. More emotional drive. Stop trying to be funny. Just trust the story. It will work.
June 26, 1999
An almost re-written text. Dinner and reading at the house in LA. Good people, many of whom I do not know attend. They have been invited by Michael Donaldson, production attorney and advisor/dramaturge. I cook a good meal for fifty, and then push them all into the living room, and joke that I served pasta for dinner, so that they would not be able to move until the end of the performance. Michael is the narrator. I perform the piece. Completely wiped after the "Rhapsody in Blue", which ends the first act. No one leaves at intermission. They like it. It works. Sort of.
June 27, 1999
Off to New York. Michael Donaldson will narrate.
June 28, 1999
Speak to Patricia at Steinway Hall. Thank God I'm a Steinway artist. Folks are responding to invitations. Always a surprise. Keep on writing and changing and trying things out in front of the full length mirror in the closet at the Plaza. Too much room service. Too fat to play George. I try and get piano practice in at Steinway Hall. Too nervous. So, they'll think I'm an idiot. That's my lot.
June 29, 1999
One hundred people attending. All the Gershwin bunch, even great grandma Judy Gershwin (Marc's mother.) Order champagne and glasses and staff for the event.
June 30, 1999
Start by preparing a current script for Michael Donaldson. Don't feel like it, but I go to Steinway Hall to practice. What will be will be. Go to Crate and Barrell to find a stool that I can use when I'm reading. No luck. Oh well, I'll use a chair. 4 pm. Back to the Plaza. Order room service. Salmon. Just need to get ready to work. 6:30 pm. Back to Steinway Hall. No sign of Michael Donaldson. The main room has been set up for the performance. IT'S ALL WRONG! A chair here, a chair there, people will look at my back… I get a nervous twitch and start moving seating and furniture, trying to fit sofas and armchairs theatre style to accommodate 100 guests. The room feels cold. How am I going to draw the audience in? I have done such performances over three hundred times. I know how to do this! I get moving!Donaldson shows up. I'm still pulling sofas. He's now pulling sofas too. The waiters who will serve champagne arrive. The lighting is too dark. Too late to do anything. I remind myself that I am a professional, and it's time to get to work. The guests arrive. A little champagne, and we call them to their seats. The reading begins. A good Act I. Got to the Rhapsody. Memory slip in the first section. Never happened before. Good Lord! Others said they didn't notice - the hole felt like the grand canyon to me, but looking from the outside, it was probably not much. Still, a memory slip in the Rhapsody? Who was I kidding?
No one leaves during intermission. Again, a shock!
The reading ends. Many congratulations. Judy Gershwin's was the best. "I liked this, and I don't like ANYTHING!" Bob Kimball - the great American Musical historian is a real genuine fellow. He shook my hand after the show. He said "you are onto something. There is so much heart in your work, and people can work years and never get that kind of heart." People seemed interested. I asked Michael Donaldson later that evening if I was in order. He said that his friends were blown away. One of them was starting to talk about the stage design, wanting to be involved. I liked hearing what people had to say, but I knew that I wasn't even twenty-percent there. I leave a message for Adam in Los Angeles. It's three hours earlier, maybe 9 pm. I tell him that I survived, and that I think the trustee members liked it.
July 1, 1999
I hear from Marc Gershwin. He spoke with Adam. They talked about ideas for the play. He tells me how they will license the music. I don't know if I should be excited. Adam says that they'll let me know what the whole family will decide soon enough.
July 4, 1999
I organize a meeting with Ed Jablonski. Prime George Gershwin biographer and friend to Ira Gershwin. Kim joins me and we spend two hours talking to Ed about George Gershwin. An unusually perceptive man. Also gentle. I just love New York and the people there. So civilized. (Though not everyone would agree. Well, it just depends what you're looking for!)
July 5, 1999
Back to LA. I start researching Beethoven. What I did was nice, but the Gershwins will never let it happen. After all, it's George that we're talking about, here!
July 15, 1999
Reading more and more about Beethoven. Already figuring out how the character can be stage worthy. Not to mention how to make great use of the fact that he was deaf. Well, back to Broadway with a German after all. A telephone call from Adam, I remember the words exactly--- "I know that because we are friends, you want me to call your lawyer about this stuff, but I thought that I would tell you. The family would like to go ahead with your project."
I couldn't believe it. But wait - "go ahead" is a loaded (and you have no idea how loaded) phrase.
July 20, 1999
Back to New York. More research. More wandering the streets and re-tracing George's steps. Another visit with Ed Jablonski. It's so hot, he won't leave his apartment. We chat for two hours. I like this man very much. No airs. Just intelligence. I tell him that I will be visiting the Library of Congress in Washington to have a look at the Gershwin archives. He asks me to send a hello to Ray White, chief archivist of the Gershwin collection at the Library.
July 22, 1999
Off to Washington. Stay at the Hay Adams Hotel over looking the White House. Go to the Library of Congress, and see George's piano in the Gershwin Room where a permanent exhibit is on display. Try to contact Ray White to see the Gershwin correspondence, but Ray is in computer training for the next two days. Oh well. I'll have to come back. Back to New York, but not before touring The White House, and the rest of Washington. It reminds me of Hollywood. Lots of keeners, lots of Wanna-bees. Amazing.
July 29, 1999
Back to The Library of Congress. Can't wait any longer. Take the 6 am train and get to the library for 9:30 am. The reading room opens at 10. I see Ray White, explain my project (I wasn't certain that he was convinced of what I was up to…) and he gives me the correspondence, and some of George's notebooks and scores. There was no plastic on the letters. They are all stored in a temperature-controlled area. I was touching George's letters directly as well as his original hand-written scores. I was floating on a cloud. I was there from ten am until 5 pm. I didn't move, nor drink, or eat, not even "ablutions." I got permission from the Library to quietly tape my own reading of the text of unpublished letters. One of the letters, from George Palay, a friend of the Gershwins to Irene Dreyfus, the wife of George's publisher describes in detail how George died. The letter made me weep. Listening back to that portion of the tape is painful. I finish up and travel forward 63 years in time. Back to New York on the night train. Exhausted and happy as ever.
July 29, 1999
I return to LA, and decide to leave "Gershwin" alone for a couple of months. The lawyers have started talking. I quickly realize the meaning of "go ahead." Workshops, and out of town productions, and script submissions, and approvals - of absolutely everything. Not that anyone has been difficult with me, but at some point, one wants freedom. I quickly learned that that was never going to happen. There are two options. Keep my eye on the ball, or be a spoiled brat. Never the one to be spoiled, I keep my eye on the ball. The goal is Broadway as George Gershwin. The rules for getting there include the Gershwin family, and the approvals. There are some friends who wonder why I haven't ripped all my hair out by now. Simple. Firstly, it's my nature to make people happy, and secondly, I keep the eye on the ball - I just follow the rules of the game, and recognize that people are people, and that my family name is Felder, not Gershwin. Always be kind, always be generous, and above all, always be truthful, and watch the temper… (just figure out a way to control it, when you're ready to blow your stack!) And remember - you can do all this without giving up artistic integrity. I always marvel at the types who throw their scripts around, and slam tables, and break chairs, and holler insults at those for whom "they will not change one golden word of their script!" Well, I suppose - whatever makes a person feel like an artist…
Plans are finalized for the letter of agreement with the Gershwins. They include study workshops, and an eight-week full production workshop. All by June 30th, 2000. Oh boy.
August 5, 1999
I call my cousin (fourth cousin or something - but we were not all that close. A couple conversations over four years…) Joel Zwick, the famous theatre and television director. He's a real New Yorker. Perfect to direct "Gershwin." I start writing again. Changing, fixing, correcting…I suggest that he and I have a meeting.
August 13, 1999
Over to Joel's house with current script in hand. I meet with Joel and tell him that I am sitting on a gold-mine. I describe the project. He agrees that the idea is quite something. I leave him with a script not knowing if he will recommend a director, or will he be interested in working on it himself. He is the most prolific television director in Hollywood. What does he need me for? He says that he'll call me in a few days. Again, panic. Someone's finally going to say it. "You're an idiot!"
August 16, 1999
I get a phone call from Joel. He says that he is not ready to discuss the play, he has read it a couple of times, but that it may be a remarkable piece of work. He wasn't sure. He'll call me back when he figures it out.
August 19, 1999
Joel calls. He thinks the play could be something. He wants to meet. In the meantime, Michael Donaldson has other ideas for a director. We go see the other directors' work. Never in a million years. I tell Michael that once he meets Joel, he will like him. In the meantime - Joel hasn't even said that he wants to be the one to direct.
August 24, 1999
Over to Joel's house. We talk about the project and what Joel can bring to it. Still, no commitment. I'm hoping. Finally on the way out, I say "well Joel, if you choose to commit to this…" he answers with "don't worry. I'm directing it." I didn't drive home. I flew - not speeding on the freeway - but on my wings. Cousin Joel just gave me wings. Pieces started coming together.
September 8, 1999
Joel comes over, and I read through the play for him. It's effective storytelling, but actable from a stage? Who knows. I have to submit the production team list to the Gershwin trustees for their approval. Anyone gonna' tell me how I am going to ask THE Joel Zwick for his resume? I hunt on the net - some stuff is there. I've got to ask him. How?
September 12, 1999
I get Michael Donaldson's bio. Now for the production team. I see Joel at 12 pm. We are working on the script, because the following week, I will submit the text to the Gershwins for approval. This will be the first submission of many. I simply ask Joel for his biography. He knows why. I hate this part - oh well.
September 13, 1999
Off to New York. Arrive 14th in the am. First is lunch at 21 with Millie Marmur, my book agent. She's the president of Book Table - a private monthly gathering of less than 25 major book people. I'm Millie's guest. I have a chance to tell the likes of David Brown and other such notables about the Gershwin play. They are very excited. What fun! They all promise to follow the development.
September 14, 1999
Tea at the Plaza (the Palm Court, of course…) with Michael Sukin, the attorney for the Gershwin estate. I am friendly with his brother and sister-in-law in Los Angeles, and I have also offered to host a charity event in LA for Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans, which is run by Michael Sukin's very dear friend Susan Aberbach. I was approached by the charity because I am known for hosting such events, as the youngest board member of The "1939" Club, one of North Americas most respected Holocaust survivor organizations which raises money for charity with no overhead. FIDV is a worthy charitable organization, and how odd that all these people should be linked, the Gershwins, their attorney, the charity... Michael and I have time to talk about my project. It is clear that Michael and I will be friends. He is not at all what I expected. He is soft-spoken, and a gentleman, not the usual image of a big-shot attorney, which he is. We don't talk much about Gershwin. That's business, and they are his clients. But we have plenty else to share.
September 15, 1999
It's a rainy day. I drop off the current copies of the script to the trustee members. Dinner with Marc Gershwin at Orso and a few others. I run into Michael Feinstein and Terry, and Michelle Lee and Fred also dining at Orso. We know each other from LA. I thank Michael for getting me to the Gershwins.
September 16, 1999
A short visit with Leopold G. He has a guest who is working on a series of Gershwin educational films. Leopold plays his music for us. Interesting. Dinner with the Andy and Charles Bronfman. Just the three of us. New York has been rained upon for three days straight. A deluge. I share my story of creating the Gershwin play with the Bronfmans. An evening of relaxation.
September 17, 1999
Back to LA.
September 28, 1999
Lunch at "Tahiti" in Los Angeles. Great food. I start thinking about losing weight for the role. Just thinking… Lunch is with friend Paula Holt. Paula owns and runs the Tiffany Theatre in Los Angeles. A perfect space to workshop the piece. I ask if we can make an arrangement for the theatre for some ten days in December. I give her a copy of the script.
September 29, 1999
Off to the Hilton in Beverly Hills with Kim for the Warren Beatty speech dinner. The biggest press attraction in town. Almost like the Oscars. Speculation that Warren would announce a run for office. Oh, well. Paula Holt is sitting at a table near-by. She says that she read the script. She says that she has some problems with it. I tell her to join the club.
October 1, 1999
Starting to gather the best production team around. A brilliant scenic designer, known for her cutting edge work - Yael Pardess. I send her a script. I telephone Michael Millar, technical director at the Geffen, and his partner, Holly who is a well-known costume designer. Michael suggests that we bring on Kent Dorsey and Jon Gottlieb. He tells me that they are two geniuses. I send out scripts, and everyone will join the team. Onwards and upwards. I collect everyone's bios, and on….
…October 15, 1999
Off go all the bios to the Gershwins.
October 18, 1999
Mark Goldberg sends a letter from the Ira Gershwin interests. My team is approved. Now for the George side. Conversations let me know that it was all okay.
Regular script meetings with Joel.
October 24, 1999
The first reading of the new script at our house. Fifty guests, some the same from early last summer, many different ones. The whole team comes. We put up a stage, lights. There it is. People are watching George Gershwin. As I'm reading, something feels mixed up. The storytelling isn't clear. It's hampering what's going on. PAIN! Folks have come to know that it's worthless not to tell me what they think. I need to hear the truth (or their truth, at least…). The consensus is that there is a play there, but the average theatre go-er will be confused by such a "reading." Many of the guests don't know this part of the process. So many comments come from left field. Joel Zwick, who has only worked on the script, and hasn't worked on the piece on its feet (or with me as an actor…) says during the intermission - "I gotta tell you, Hersh, you are a MUCH better actor than I ever thought you would be." So I say that I have been on stage as an actor since I was a child. He says. "Fine. How should I have known?" Point taken, but all in all - good news. He says that getting me in order to do this will be much easier than he thought. He also liked many of my acting choices, not all ones that he expected! (Again - good news.) Back to the writing grind. Gotta get rid of the artifice in the play.
October 28, 1999
Tea with Paula H. at the Four Seasons. Hand her a new script for the play. I read parts of the re-written material since she saw it on Sunday last. She is pleased with my speed in making changes and complete re-writes.
Regular work with Joel. Start thinking about the staged workshop at the Tiffany. Dates will be December 16-19th. Enough time to pull it together.
November 22, 1999
"A Soiree in Vienna" at the house. We have Austro-Hungarian food and Schubert and Sacher Torte sent to us directly from the hotel. Fifty guests, among them, The Gershwins, Carol King, Phil Robinson, Carl Reiner, Betty White, Barbara Bain. Adam comes over in the afternoon. He has offered to help cook. He helps make a "gulyas" that becomes famous in a Bob Scheer's article in the LA Times. He also bakes the bread. We have become real friends, despite the difficulty of having to seek approvals. Kinda' nice. He's also very gifted technically as a writer. He catches problems in a script very quickly. He should be a success in his field. Played the "Rhapsody" again after dinner. Carl Reiner was about to go home to his wife who wasn't feeling well. I caught him just on his way out, and in front of the whole crowd, I launched into a vaudeville routine and made him take a seat to hear the "Rhapsody". Everyone had a good laugh (at someone's expense, anyway…). For the first time, I say in public that I think the Gershwins made a very good choice in selling the "Rhapsody" theme to United Airlines. Even though people laugh that kids call it the "airplane commercial" I say "Nevermind. A whole generation of young people, who would never know this great theme, can sing it at the drop of a hat. And that's worth it all. What is a composer after all, if he isn't heard?" I thought that one of the Gershwins would bonk me on the head - but the fact is, I believe what I said.
December 1, 1999
Up on its feet. Joel and I start rehearsals. The budget for the Tiffany is expensive. I'll simply pay for it as an HTG production. We cannot sell tickets. Part of the deal with the Gershwins. So, we'll invite "le tout LA." But only if the piece hangs together, and that we won't know for two more weeks.
December 1 - 9, 1999
Rehearsals at the house. The large living room serves as our rehearsal hall. Furniture is cleaned out. Nowhere on earth is there a more glorious rehearsal hall (with a sprung dance floor at the center of it. A real ballroom.)
December 8, 1999
After thinking about it, I ask a very well to do (VERY VERY well to do) friend, a famous and prominent business man, to financially support the production. He saw the reading at the house. He was skeptical. But, hey, anything for his friend. He supported the workshop production.
December 10, 1999
We have discovered that the show is one act, not two, and we don't have to change anything, except eliminate a chance to go to the bathroom. The Rhapsody is now the final piece, absolutely nothing after it. Joel and I run the show for the entire team which has been assembled over the past two weeks. They laugh. They stare. They hold onto the story. It's going to be okay. I don't need to push the acting. It's all there. As if by magic. (And lots of hard work.)
December 12, 1999
Invitations go out via FAX to the "A list." Maybe we'll have twenty to thirty patrons at each performance. That'll be fine, and certainly enough to make it feel like a real audience. Oh, Oh. The flu is coming on. Gotta' get that herbal thing that you put under your tongue that hopefully lets you avoid the flu. I'm at the well-to-do house. The well-to-do wife of the well-to-do-friend, saves the day with the herbal stuff. Wow. It works.
December 13/14, 1999
People are responding to the invitation. The strongest night is the 19th, but others are responding to the 16th and 17th. Should be nice. We are in the theatre doing cue to cue. I eat chicken soup, and look at my profile in the mirror. Absolutely too heavy to do the role. This stage doesn't feel like home. Not yet.
December 15, 1999
Photo call. Michael Lamont shoots the show. Everyone is present. What a team. Everyone's happy. Joel makes it tough for lighting designer Shirley. What can she do? She's working with so few instruments, and after all, it's a workshop. Joel and Shirley eventually "get" each other. Everyone seems to be having a nice time. What's wrong with this picture? Run of the show. I do well.
December 16, 1999
Rehearsal at 4 pm. My voice is tired. Still toying with the end of the play. Now to be an artist. I'm used to that - going out on stage and doing my thing. It's all the questions before that are troublesome. Have I done everything that I possibly can to prepare? Have I been a responsible professional artist? At 8 pm, the house is half full. But reservations have all come in. We are sold out for the Thursday and Friday shows, but we are overbooked by forty (!!!???) For Sunday's show. Well, it's Los Angeles. Let's hope that at least thirty people pull an "LA" on us on Sunday. 8:10 three-quarters full. Something about bad traffic. We wait another five minutes, the house is full. And there it goes. The first light cue is wrong. So what? I've got my audience.
My voice is a little tired, but it works. There are things that are missing in the script, but I know that I can get them in there over the next two days. Time to go home to sleep. Rehearsal tomorrow at 4 pm.
December 17, 1999
Re-wrote two major passages which give a whole new context to the piece. We'll see. Voice is in good shape tonight - also, the piano playing works. I don't get tired. Thank god for the past twenty years of playing piano on a stage. The show goes up at 8 pm. The light cue from the day before is fixed. All's well. Oooh. Sailing. This is fun. Mark Goldberg, from the Ira Gershwin Trust is there. The show goes very well. 80% of the audience sticks around after to greet me. The same as the night before. The show felt good. Still more work to do. Mark Goldberg nowhere to be found after the performance. We never talk about the show. Not even when I see him in New York. Well, the show is about George, not Ira, after all.
December 19, 1999
Kent Dorsey, the lighting designer and his wife Christine are down from the Bay area. They're staying with us. A cool couple. Kent didn't light this show. This presentation was a study for him. This evening's performance has people sitting on the sides, on the stairs, on the floor. We had over attendance by twenty. Could have been worse. Again they all waited for me after the performance in the lobby of the theatre. What a treat.
December 20, 1999
Adam calls. We talk about the show - I'm already onto the week's new project. A recording of my soon to be premiered Piano Concerto. Adam has some reservations about certain things in the play, but not serious ones, all are manageable within the context of the work. That's the fun part of the challenge. Managing all the requests without losing artistic integrity. (I think I have discovered the secret. You either have integrity or you don't. It's that simple.)
December 21 (or 22), 1999
A discussion with Robert Kimball. He expresses concern about one historical bit that unless otherwise explained could be misconstrued as something else. I tell him that our play can live without the detail. Out it goes. I don't touch the script - not for another month.
December 24, 1999
The well-to-do friends who financially supported the production saw the final performance. The guy gets it. It would change his life (for the better) to be involved in this production's final stages. He's a great lover of the performing arts, and I think secretly would have loved the artist's life. He still has a chance - I shall help him. Most charming part of the story was when I walked into his house, and he said… "And next - you could do Beethoven!" (I didn't tell him that that was my failsafe plan all along…) And after that, he said "So where do WE go next?" I said nothing. Just that "WE" would rehearse. I know I made him proud to be a part of it. He's a good guy. And we'll see what comes next.
December 27, 1999
Kim and I are off to Hilton Head SC for "Renaissance." It's where the President and Hillary go for New Years. This year, the Clintons stayed in Washington, but the crowd was illustrious as usual. I had the dubious distinction of being the first person to open my mouth in public in front of the whole place. 1700 of the world's highest achievers and control freaks. Well, I did some Gershwin, and the good news is that everyone knew who I was after that first evening, and we had four more days together. But let me tell you. It wasn't easy. Some people didn't know who George Gershwin was. Terrifying. But they are billionaires from communication technology (many of the unaware ones, anyway…). And, there were a few artists and government types, and art loving folks, all the most accomplished in their fields… (Nobel winners, and Pulitzer winners. Those kinds…) The world, in the coming millennium is going to be an interesting one.
January 15, 2000
Off to New York. Invited to a reading of THEY ALL LAUGHED! The new Gershwin musical! - A reworking of Oh, Kay! Written by Joe Di Pietro. Met Marc and Adam (who was in town for the reading) for a quick visit at their place. Saw the reading on Tuesday the 17th. Directed by Jon Rando, who I met briefly in Los Angeles. The reading was charming. Like everything, needs work, and one hopes that they do the good work, because there is nothing more fun than seeing a good piece through. Went out for dinner with Adam, Marc and friends. A BRILLIANT restaurant. Patria, on Park and 18th (or 19th - INCREDIBLE!)
January 19, 2000
Back to LA. Holing up on the script with Joel. This is it folks. Letters go out to the Gershwins requesting permission to do a two-week run in Los Angeles to finalize the production script. It takes some time to hear, but we are booked for the Tiffany Theatre. A website begins being designed, and contains all the information about the production.
January 23, 2000
Sheli Teitelbaum of the Jerusalem Report does the fist in-depth interview and profile on me and this project. I am nervous about what I say. It is important to imagine your words in print when you give a press interview. A simple bit of irony that was charming as the spoken word, in print, can close down a project.
February 16, 2000
The first day of rehearsals on a new script. I'm on my feet with a lousy cough. Memorizing is torture. But it comes quicker than before. The new material is playable. I feel like the world we are looking for is finally being created with language. I think we have a play. Did I mention that Joel Zwick is a genius?
February 18, 2000
The cough is getting worse, and memorizing the piece is torture. Intellectually, I know that the material works, but I am having trouble finding the connections on my feet. I have the sinking feeling that I will never raise the level of the work. I think that I should go and see the doctor. Lonny Dubrofsky and I are working fast and furious on the website, and I am a little testy. I only wish that I had the capacity to design the site. Lonny – the nicest kid in the world has his own life, and can’t be available to me twenty-four hours every day, whereas, I myself, could handle such an arrangement… Joel and I rehearse some more. My body just doesn’t feel so well, but I am dieting very seriously. I go see Michael Lamont, production photographer, and bring him the model of Yael Pardess’ set for the show. He photographs it, so that we can use it on our website.
February 20, 2000
In October of the past year, Doug Henning, the world-famous magician became a close friend. While over at our house, he heard me play segments of the "Rhapsody". He was convinced that we needed to make the piano float at the end of the show – and that the "Rhapsody" would only benefit from it. He was all excited about this idea, and he wanted to create it for me. The last time that I saw him, I said that I would read the show for him, and see what he would come up with. Very sadly, dear Doug died in early February of liver cancer. No one knew – he and his beautiful wife Debbie, just holed up in their LA home, and he waited to die. We heard it on the news. We were all shocked. Even their closest friends didn’t know. So, today was the memorial service at the Bel-Air hotel in Los Angeles, and Debbie, Doug’s wife, asked that I perform after all the speeches. Following some three hours of memorializing, I played the "Rhapsody in Blue" – for dear Douggie – who we loved so much – who would have made the piano float.
February, 21, 2000
President’s Day. Go to the E.N.T. Tell him that we are in trouble, Can’t stop coughing. Once again – antibiotics, and some cortisone pills, and a cough syrup that makes me unbelievably sleepy, but it works!!!!!
February 25, 2000
Go to hear Estelle Reiner sing at the Gardenia in Los Angeles. After Estelle finishes, Carl asks me to play a few notes on the piano. I play a selection from the "Rhapsody". A little excitement! Some tickets sold!!!!!!
February 28, 2000
A dinner party at the house. Fifty guests, and like a lunatic, I put together a string quartet with whom I will play the Schubert Trout Quintet. Clearly, I have lost my mind, and undertake to learn the work that day. We rehearse at 5 pm – serve dinner at 7 and play at about 8:30 or 9. It doesn’t go too poorly, but I miss a few passages – not all that serious. Feeling seriously apologetic, I perform a bit of the "Rhapsody", and advertise the upcoming performances at the Tiffany. Hopefully we’ll get some people there. Budget is rising, I am getting nervous.
March 1, 2000
The first fully realized production is this month! A little panic, and a rising budget. Oy Vey.
March 4, 2000
Joel and I are writing, and changing, and fixing, and rehearsing, and I bring a new script over to Michael Donaldson’s place. I read a few segments aloud. He is convinced that we are getting closer. I should tell you that he suggested a few weeks back that I hire a writer to help me with the script. Needless to say, I had a terrible reaction to that. Very difficult to get folks to have patience until you finally execute what is in your imagination (which takes a whole lot of time, a lot of work – and a whole lot of doing the wrong thing so that you can find out what the right thing is!).
March 9, 2000
Run through at the house just for Yael who has a superb reaction and makes me feel like we may have a show.
March 10, 2000
First run-through performance in our fancy “rehearsal hall” (Kim’s and my home) for the whole bunch – designers, staff, Donaldson, etc. Donaldson asks to have the rehearsal moved up because he has a later appointment, and is the only one who is late. (This becomes a running joke.) The performance goes very well – except Donaldson is trying to follow an old script, which I pull out of his hands smack in the middle of performing – in order to spare myself from being driven crazy. The whole crew sticks around after the run-through. They don’t seem to want to leave. A very good sign!
March 13, 2000
We are able to get into the theatre, and Rob and Melissa, our documentary filmmakers, film us putting up the marquee on Sunset Boulevard. Discussions with Judi Davidson and Steve Moyer (press agents) ensue about how to make this thing work I the press, press releases are out and away we go!
March 14, 2000
We begin rehearsals on a bare stage. Empty, cavernous, I have to relearn the whole show. The seven foot Steinway that I will be using for the production will be unavailable until the 23rd, so Steinway has sent us a noisy Yamaha. Well, it’s got eighty-eight keys.
March 15-19, 2000
We are in the theatre every day, Melissa films a rehearsal and gives me a recording. Really scary. Where’s the show? We made the recording to send to Kent Dorsey who will be lighting the show, but this seems to be turning into a problem. Kent is VERY busy, and I am getting more and more uncomfortable with him lighting the show by a tape, and then sending his assistant. He’s brilliant, but not psychic. We’ll see. Well, we decided. Kent simply does not have the time. It isn’t fair to him, and it isn’t fair to us. Yael has a host of designers that she loves, and we fall upon Marianne Schneller, who lit the original “Sing.” Who knew that this last minute change would turn out as brilliantly as it did?
March 19-22, 2000
There was a blurb in the LA Times about us, and our show – and apparently people are buying tickets! Adam Gershwin isn’t too happy because the article lists me as the first person to be granted the rights to create the role of George Gershwin. Well, there is another fellow who has the rights to do a production in schools only. Very different from mine. But I’m not going to argue. There it is. I check the box office sales regularly – not a whole lot, but shocking, nevertheless!!!! They are busy moving the set and lights into the theatre. It looks great – I visit the set a few times, but the dust makes me sick. Oh well. Joel and I are back to rehearsing at home.
March 23, 2000
First day in the theatre with the set, and piano. Marianne and Joel been creating lighting cues most of the day, and I come in when I was told to, about two in the afternoon, and we start our tech-through at five. A long run, but they say that the show looks nice. Yael is in Ashland, Oregon on another show, it makes me nervous, but I trust her work, so we just move on.
March 24, 2000
The Gershwins will be coming to the run through at 4 pm the next day. Our tech-throughs are nice, I can do the show. I stop worrying about it – and stop thinking about it when I am away from it. I teach myself to let go of the whole thing when I leave the theatre. I want to live! (And so, do not want to hear lines in my head over and over like a nut.) BUT the wall on stage right is poorly lit, and needs more texture, and Yael isn’t around and the Gershwins are coming the next day, and I am nervous and angry. Cannot find Yael, and want to add texture to the walls. Michael Millar pulls a good one, and forces me to wait until we speak with Yael. Good move. I was prepared to repaint the set. Well that could be done with Yael on Monday. We’ll touch up the lighting, and the Gershwins will have to live with it. Done.
March 25, 2000
Into the theatre for review. Lighting looks good. Who knows what will be. The theatre is overbooked by 40, but as it turns out – only 90% show up. Well, that’s what happens on a nice Saturday afternoon when folks don’t pay for their seats. I can see the Gershwins who all wear glasses, throughout the performance. Terror. Are they sleeping? Must be. The show goes well, only one small flub, and not serious, and not noticeable, just searching for a line. Standing ovation. People seem happy. I don’t believe them. I introduce the Gershwins at the curtain call – and when the lights go up, they aren’t running away. I think they got it. We line everyone up for photos, and the Gershwins are happy to take photos with me and with the crew. Joel is pleased, he gives me notes. Marc Gershwin gives me one fact-note (although Adam wasn’t sure that it made a difference to the storytelling) and Alex Gershwin, the youngest of the lot (15) and by far the most difficult critic LIKES the show! (The truth is, I was most terrified of him. He’s a clever kid. A really clever kid!) Joel and his wife Candice and Kim and I with our friend from Toronto, Mireille, head over to Chin Chin where we grab a bite, and then Joel and I head off to a radio interview with Greg Hunter, for some Cable Station. We get lost getting there, and finally arrive with a few seconds to spare for our nine pm on the air. A late night.
March 26, 2000
Oscar night. Day off. But NO! Invited for dinner to UCLA Dean of Public Policy, Barbara Nelson and her partner Mandy’s home. After dinner, I give the guests a taste of Gershwin. I hope to God that it sells a few tickets. Still, I am happy to play. Barbara and Mandy are just lovely!
March 27, 2000
Dress rehearsal in the theatre at 6 pm. Yael has returned and the walls and lighting have been fixed. Happy. A deadly audience comes to the run-through. Just some twenty people. Not an easy task. But I do my work, and Michael Lamont, the photographer, shoots the show. So does Yael. Click on this side, click on that side…good Lord…
March 28, 2000
Opening night. The house is sold out. 75% are full priced tickets (!!!???!!!). The show goes remarkably well, and I am happy. People get it. Above all – I feel that I have WORKED to make it work, and the work on the stage feels wonderful. I am physically and technically free –(thanks to Joel and the great preparation…) and I am happy. Bert Fields (the attorney who prosecuted Michael Eisner) and his wife Barbara and the Checchis take Kim and I out to Le Dome for dinner after the show. They talk endlessly about what they just saw. Bert Fields complains about the first third of the show. It took him time to get hooked. They don’t stop talking about the show, and argue with each other about who was hooked at the first second and who took some time. I try to get the conversation off of me and the show. IMPOSSIBLE. I should take it as a good sign, but I am too tired to do so. A matinee the next day.
March 29, 2000
Matinee – Shalhevet High School. Nice Jewish Kids. Well behaved. Almost. Shirley and Amber in the booth tell me that they would never want to be on the other end of my glare when I am not happy about someone making noise. Good. It works! Night show goes well. Also sold out. Unbelievable. No advertising – friends and word of mouth. Gershwins don’t want advertising just yet.
March 30, 2000
Again, sold out – another decent show.
March 31, 2000
Magic. The first time. It really is working. Good friends come who are show-biz folks and are very critical. They give me notes. NOT acting. NOT playing. Story notes. SUCCESS! (And that is the true sign. They were listening. They were thinking. YAY!)
April 1, 2000
Matinee. Not sold out. 80%. Okay. You won’t have such success all the time, and 80% is also a great house. Who do you think you are? Evening. A group of Holocaust Survivors. The “1939” Club. We start late. One guy is angry for the late start. The lights go to black and a thick Yiddish accent says “Oy, I’m scared.” One line, and another thick accent says “Vat did he say?” I have some patrons in the crowd who came to see my work for the first time. The show was not funny. The show did not work. Sure, I played all the beats. But that’s it. The survivors didn’t understand, and I played into that. Thank God Joel took the day off. I would have been beheaded. Period. (PS – when things got really rough I threw in a few “Oy’s” and made like Yiddish Theatre. Oy. Oy.) A party after at one Patron’s (non-survivor) house. What party? It felt like a funeral. And it made me terribly sad. We had folks in from New York and Chicago – in especially to see the show, and I felt like I disappointed them. It just didn’t fly.
April 2, 2000
Afternoon show. Something clicked. The night before taught me that I need to have fun no matter who tries to ruin it. Not only do I have fun, I have SO MUCH fun, I was flying. So did the audience. Fred Rapaport, whose work I respect (married to Michelle Lee, who is in NY doing a play) and whose most recent work is AFI’s 100 top films (producer, writer) comes to show, and sticks around to give me a critical review. Makes a few good suggestions and loves the show. YIPEE! My friend from the East Coast, a fabulous actor and playwright by the name of Nick Morgan, who is staying with me, stands silently by as Fred tells me how much he loved the show. We talk for some ten minutes. Others chime in with great excitement… and following all this, Nick and I decide to go home and check on the party that is being prepared (Chinese Food, for George, New York, Jewish, Sunday Night) for after the evening show. Nick and I walk to the car. I expect a critical review. He hugs me. He looks me in the eye – and I will never forget the tears in his… “Do you know…” he said, “Do you even know how good this is?” On the ride home, he talked about his Dad (Nick is in his late forties…) and how he and his dad don’t see eye to eye, but this play would have brought them together, if only for a time, because of their love of art and music. Tears were running down his face. I felt complete.
The evening show was wild. The guests from Chicago and New York, came back to see the show, and later on said “now THAT was the show we came to see! “ (No kidding…)We were oversold (by a LOT!) and Anne Bancroft came with Carl and Estelle Reiner, and Betty White, and Barbara Bain, and so many other wonderful people, the Consul General of Israel, the Consul General of Austria, the Consul General of Switzerland, the Consul General of England… producers, directors, politicians, patrons – who all came over to the house after the show. We had Chinese food. We set for eighty, and had a hundred. Magic, magic, magic. Theo Bikel came over after his own concert and we played music until the wee hours of the morning. We laughed, we smiled… we had SO MUCH fun. I was happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Kim and I were at home doing what we loved most. Being happy.
April 5, 2000
Joel and I get together to review the script. New ideas already. Now to request another run at the Tiffany theatre which is available in June. Will the Gershwins let me do a run at the Tiffany, or will I have to go out of Los Angeles, as they originally wanted? I write letters. Adam calls me back immediately, he thinks that it is a radical request, but suggests that I write letters to all the parties involved. I do and Fax them out. And wait, and wait, as slowly, but surely, I start to give up.
April 12, 2000
Rob Stone comes over to film Joel and I discussing more text changes in the play. No word from Adam on the show.
April 13, 2000
I call Adam about the show. He hasn’t heard from the “Ira” side. He promises to call me when he does. I start thinking about completing my own compositions. They will never let me do this run in LA.
April 14, 2000
5 pm. The telephone rings. I pick it up, sure that it is Kim at that time on that particular line. It is Adam. He has good news. I can go ahead with the show. God Bless his soul. June 2 – 25, 2000. The Tiffany Theatre, Los Angeles. Please Come.
June 9, 2000
A local producer and theatre operator by the name of Richard Willis comes to the show. Richard operates The Wadsworth theatre in Los Angeles, and he attends at the suggestion of one of our crew members, Michael "Cosmo" Flannery, who is the technical director at The Wadsworth. I do not know what Richard looks like, though I do know that he is partners with Marty Markinson, and that Marty Markinson is the owner and operator of the Helen Hayes theatre in New York City. I have always thought that the Helen Hayes would be a lovely theatre to be in, and had actually talked about it - as a wonderful fantasy - for some years. Following the performance that Richard was supposed to attend, I emerged from the dressing room on my way to leave, and came onto the empty stage. Wandering in the theatre was this young stranger, who looked to have made himself very comfortable in our theatre. I recognized him to be the disrespectful theatre-goer who had had his feet propped up during the show on the back of the one empty chair in the theatre which happened to be in front of him. I distinctly remembered these two big feet in my face throughout the show. When Cosmo wandered onto the stage, I said in a rather loud and annoyed voice: "Who is that?" And Cosmo said: "That's my boss. Rich Willis." Ah. So he wasn't a disrespectful theatre-goer after all. He was a producer. One in the same. When Richard introduces himself, we talk briefly about his connection to the Helen Hayes, and I say that I would like to keep in touch with him. He offers me his business card and I make certain that I have his email address, and I leave the theatre. Throughout the month of June and July, I have email contact with Richard, and I suggest that we have lunch, which we do, and I bring up the subject of George Gershwin Alone at the Helen Hayes. (Well, if you don't ask, you never get...) We become friendly, as Richard is the same age as I am, and we discuss theatre a whole lot. We find that we share the same theatrical sensibilities.
June 23, 2000
We have had a successful run. Celebrities who have seen the production include Warren Beatty, Annette Benning, Paul Thomas Anderson, Fiona Apple, Barbara Bain, Carl Reiner, Barbara Bossun, Monty Hall, Ron Meyer, Bruce Ramer, Arthur Hiller, JoAnne Worley, Anne Bancroft, Sidney Sheldon, Theodore Bikel, Betty White, Neil Simon and many more… The production has now been extended through August 20th, and negotiations are currently underway for production on the East Coast.
July 2, 2000
Charles Osgood & CBS Sunday Morning air a 10 minute mini documentary of George Gershwin Alone, that was made on the first weekend of the run. We receive phone calls and e-mails from around the country. It's the busiest day at the box office to date. It's very exciting and we can only hope for a wonderful future. Thank you for your support.
July 25th, 2000
The production remains completely sold out through the month of July. House seats are regularly released seven days in advance, and (don't tell the fire marshall) we are overseating weekend performances by using folding chairs. A small illegal business begins in "step seating" - cash at the door for a place to sit on the stairs of the theatre. The producer knows nothing of this cash business (of course not) and it is run by the front of house staff. Actually, the step seating cash, became a cash bonus that was divided up among the entire backstage crew. It was a nice little plus in recognition for the crew's hard work.
July 26th, 2000
We have to darken the production for one week, because I have a previous concert engagement with the National Academy Orchestra of Canada. Who knew we would run this long? We all really believed that we had a nice little "theatrical concert" piece that we would be able to run for a weekend here and there in different cities. We all dreamed - but who knew? When I telephoned the box-office from Toronto to see how the upcoming weeks’ sales were doing, they reported that patrons were "rather upset" that the show had to go dark for a week, but for the first time the show was actually completely sold out before the new week began. We saw this all the way through Labor Day weekend. Though - one fine Sunday matinee, an elderly gentleman shows up with a bag of lollypops and begins handing them out to all the patrons. (A performer's nightmare.) He claims that he has been doing this at different theatrical events for some thirty years, and begins flinging lollypops into the audience before the show begins. The stage manager says "The artist would like to see you in his dressing room." The older gentleman screams out to the crowd. "I guess they're gonna’ throw me out now!" So, the fellow comes back to the dressing room and I spend a few minutes with him just being kind - and thanking him for the wonderful treat. He heads back to the crowd and shouts at them as he makes his way to his seat "The performer is a really nice guy! You're gonna’ love the show!" The audience roars its approval, and we are all reminded how important it is to always be kind.
August 27th, 2000
Richard Willis and I have discussed the play ad nauseaum. We decide that somehow we will get this play to New York City, as it seems to excite audiences, and Richard believes that we could actually make this work on Broadway - at the Helen Hayes in a small Broadway house. There is work to done - vis-à-vis elevating the production quality of the show, and we decide to go for it. At this point, Richard brings his partner, Marty Markinson into the deal, and Marty has organized a follow-up production at THE CUILLO CENTRE FOR THE ARTS in West Palm Beach, Florida to run from January 3-28. Naturally I think we only have a few more weeks left in LA, and so, another production sounds like a good move, though I have very little interest in going to Florida. I'm not certain about re-living my childhood New Year's vacations with New York, Toronto and Montreal south.
September 1, 2000
Kim and I, our friends, Steven and Nancy Rush (he is the attorney for the Gershwin estate) and Richard all pack off to "Renaissance Weekend" in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Renaissanace weekend is run by Phil and Linda Lader - at the time Phil was the Ambassador to the court of St. James. "Renaissance" began in 1981 with Phil and Linda gathering their friends for a weekend of intellectual fun. The weekends have now grown and have included Presidents and Prime Ministers, world leaders, business leaders, thinkers, entertainers et al. It was a great opportunity to talk about "George Gershwin Alone" to many folks from all over the world. Richard and I produced a little performance at the final Gala. Great publicity, great fun, and above all, a chance to see what such a varied group thought. They seemed to enjoy a number of folks have gotten involved with the production.
September 7, 2000
We return to Los Angeles, extend until April 24th, and once again - we are completely sold out. I remember that it was George Furth who came to one of the early performances and said to me.. "I am totally on my ass about this show - you're gonna run forever!" I thought he was kidding. Little did I know he was right - in Los Angeles, anyway...
October 10, 2000
The trouble begins. The owner of our theatre, the Tiffany, has a previous contract that she has tried to negotiate her way out of - a piece called "Confidentially Cole" - a three week run with a band, a singer, and a BIG set. At this point we have decided that we will return to run Gershwin from November 9th through December 17th, as our final closing date, since we must go to Florida to open up shop at the Cuillo Centre for the Arts in West Palm Beach. Lots of anger sets in from all sides at the notion that we have to close a sold out show, for another show. There is a lot of miscommunication, a lot of anger, a big mess with regards to what we will do with our set (which we managed to keep at the theatre - big mistake) how we will maintain signage on the marquee, and all of it lands us all up in a huge mess. Richard Willis and I have now become full partners on the production, and I vacillate between being angry and furious. Not exactly a good place to be. But I deal with it, and on October 15th, I keep everybody smiling and happy when we close the show - and head off to NY with Richard to begin discussions for our possible B'way appearance.
October 17-November 4, 2000
It seems that Broadway is becoming less and less of a possibility since the hit show Dirty Blonde is playing at the Helen Hayes, and it is doing brilliant business. It seems that it will be ensconced well into the New Year. Ah well. So much for getting to Broadway. Richard and I are now in NY to see what can be done. We have a wonderful interview with Peter Filichia from Theatre.com and Marty Markinson joins us for the interview. Naturally - any Broadway announcement is a moot point, because Dirty Blonde is in to stay!
November 5-9, 2000
All hell breaks loose. We return to Los Angeles and our theatre to find a COMPLETE disaster on out stage. The hired crew that was meant to re-install our set, destroyed the whole thing. Things that were meant to be gray were painted black. The walls that had art work on them were destroyed. The carpet was repainted and looked as if someone had thrown a ton of soot on it. The floor was completely scuffed. I am the first to see the result, I run over to Richard's theatre, the Wadsworth. (Richard operates the Wadsworth theatre in Los Angeles) He has an event with 1400 people in the audience, and I take him outside and throw a fit. Major panic. We put our thinking caps on. Worst of all, our set designer is in Texas working on another project. We hire a crew, and realize that we have to re-create the set from scratch and re-tech the show in five days. We have nine people and we work around the clock. Even Joel Zwick, our infamous director, is caught on camera vacuum cleaning. Richard Willis, the infamous producer, is on a ladder steaming curtains, with the star of the show, me! Everyone is doing something to get the theatre ready. I stop for a minute to look at how wonderful the whole thing is. We are having the time of our lives! Oops! 7:45 pm. Gotta let the house in! Gotta get dressed. Gotta do a show. Onwards. The carpet is finally clean - vacuum cleaner goes backstage. 8 pm - cue 1. Wow.
November 9-December 17, 2000
We are busy meeting over Florida plans. We finish up our sold out LA run. We leave without too much noise. Things are not going smoothly for Florida, though. We don't know the market, I don't believe that we will be able to sell any tickets there. The set is behind schedule - we are spending too much money. December 19th, we get on a plane.
December 20-January 2, 2001
Five thousand dollars in ticket sales for a four week run - for "glorious" West Palm Beach. Disaster. We make our way into the theatre, and realize that we have been advertising wrong - print instead of audio - let's go to radio! We spend $10,000 - and get ourselves on the air as much as possible. We sell more tickets.
January 3, 2001
We sell about one hundred seats for our first and only preview performance. The show looks well, though it wasn't easy installing it. I insist that we fill every single seat with a comp. I insist that we give away seats for our first week of performances. Terror. Not necessarily because of finances - but more because of "how will I perform with an empty house?"
January 5, 2001
Opening night is a huge success - people are very excited. Reviewers seem to be excited. We have a champagne party in the lobby for the entire audience. Judy Gershwin, Marc Gershwin's mother and George Gershwin's sister-in-law is our special guest. The audience eats this up alive! Now to wait for the press.
January 9, 2001
The press starts coming in. Each and every review is better than the next. We do a remarkable day in ticket sales - we break box office records, the phones are ringing off the hook. So far so good - we start selling out performances. A week without patrons (one audience had some 40 members in it) was not fun - to say the least. Thank god for performance technique. Suddenly, we are completely sold out. We raise ticket prices. We are “the thing” to do in Palm Beach. Everyone knows the production. We think that we can run longer than anticipated - but there is another show coming in. Can we extend one more week? We do. We cancel out other engagement further south in Florida, and remain at the Cuillo Centre.
January 20, 2001
Thankfully for us, but not for them - the next incoming production had some financial difficulty, and so - we were able to open up another six full weeks for sale. We are still sold out. We are George Gershwin Alone of Palm Beach, where George himself orchestrated Porgy and Bess. We keep on being written about in the press. We keep on breaking box-office records. Now the buzz starts about New York. Oy Vey.
January 20 - February 14, 2001
Marty Markinson, Owner of the Helen Hayes theatre on Broadway informs Richard and myself that since Dirty Blonde is still playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre, and is doing nice business, anybody's guess is as good as mine as to when the next show will be able to come in. In the meantime, we all wish Dirty Blonde health and happiness. It is what one must do - it is good Karma. What will be, will be. In mid-February, we get the word. The Helen Hayes Theatre is ours. George Gershwin Alone will have its first Broadway preview on April 17th, 2001.
March 17, 2001
Packing up and leaving Florida is nothing short of a horror story. There is something disheartening about closing a show even with the knowledge that the show will reopen somewhere else. Next door to the theatre in West Palm Beach is a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant, which I frequented (pigged out at) on more than one occasion. The best traditional pita in the land was just next-door! And the Imam Bayildi (Turkish for “fainted priest,” a dish of stuffed eggplant that caused a priest to faint some centuries before…) would regularly cause this Jew to faint as well. So while the crew along with Rich Willis, and the stage manager Gigi were busily bubble-wrapping everything in sight, I go next door and order a bag full of fresh pita, baba-ghanouj, the infamous “priest,” dolmades, keftekes, hummus, tehina, and everything else that satisfies a depressed mood. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t feel that something was amiss. I was terribly frightened. This wasn’t a fear of success. This was a distinct feeling of oncoming failure. We still had audience to tap in Florida. We were leaving too early.
March 18, 2001
Pack up the house in Palm Beach, pack up the dog and get a taxi to the airport early in the morning. The one thing that is exciting to me is that I will have an apartment in my old building on Central Park South. The building itself is not dog friendly, but the building manager is. Apparently whole bunches of people have dogs in the building, but in order to walk them, you have to come and go through the service entrance. I manage to get everything to the apartment, take the dog up, the doorman brings up belongings, and sure enough, within five minutes of being in the apartment, my beautiful elegant standard poodle spins in a circle and makes a “boom” in the middle of the living room. A hardwood floor, so it isn’t the end of the world. And I can only imagine how frightened he is with all the moving about and flying in a plane, but still, his “movement” says everything. We’re both terrified.
March 19 – April 15, 2001
Daily work on load-in into the Helen Hayes Theatre begins. Meetings with advertising agencies begin. Meetings with PR folks continue. The mailers go out, the box office opens, and we seem to be selling tickets. But something doesn’t feel quite right. I’m not comfortable in the theatre. I get gifts for my dressing room, but I don’t open them. For the first time, I don’t feel welcome in my dressing room, even though the dressing room is mine. I have keys to the theatre. I do my thing – which includes baking every day for the crew. There are blintzes, there are pies and cakes, all home made, right before going to bed the night before. I make shepherds’ pie for the advertising agency. It becomes a “need to please” situation, most likely because I am feeling like a fish out of water. Something is terribly wrong, but I have no idea exactly what it is. The show is busily loading in, but the lighting doesn’t feel right. The set is so expensive, that I could have invested in a piece of NY real estate instead, and possibly have been better off. Tickets are selling, but not all that briskly, though the box office feels good about it. I rehearse on the stage, do a few interviews – mostly at Judy Gershwin’s house, where George’s piano sits in the living room. I don’t know why, but I get the sense that people want me to fail - as if I am too young, and not enough for anyone to make a fuss. The things that I sense from people around don’t make sense to me. Perhaps soon enough, Friday rehearsal before a Tuesday first preview. The drama desk critics are coming to watch the rehearsal. The production itself isn’t ready of course, but we’ll give it a shot. At he rehearsal, I feel like I’m performing for a luncheon crowd. Nothing feels warm. I don’t know why. After the performance one of the Doyennes of the critics, approaches me, and says, “It was like Gershwin was talking to me himself.” But throughout the performance there wasn’t a laugh, a giggle, nothing. It felt absolutely awful. I go online to see what, if anything has been written about the show. Turns out, one of the guests at the Friday Drama Desk rehearsal is an online reviewer. She gives the show a wonderful review. We also receive a letter from another guest – director of the dance department at SUNY Purchase - a letter thanking us for bringing something so special to the world. “Maybe,” I think, “this could be all right after all…”
April 15, 2001
I take a quiet day, and an hour and half before curtain, I walk to the theatre from my apartment. There are a number of people that I telephone, family and friends, as I walk, but the most important is the telephone call to Barry Mishkin. A doctor, and my best friend from childhood, he loves this silly little story that his best friend became “famous.” (One sometimes allows one’s friend’s – for their thrill – to think that it is much bigger than it really is…) Barry and his beautiful wife have just had a beautiful child, yet Barry has recently been diagnosed with a devastating form of Leukemia. Any smile that I can bring to him is worth every ounce of trouble. He will attend opening night, chemotherapy and all – however he looks. But, if anyone will get pleasure out of the fact that I am opening my own one man show on Broadway, it will Barry Mishkin. We have a good laugh over the phone, as I walk down 6th avenue towards the theatre – and there I am – The Helen Hayes, 240 West 44th Street – right next door to Sardi’s. First preview. As has become my tradition, I am busily wandering outside the theatre looking at the crowd coming in. The real reason for this at the time was fear. I thought, perhaps, that if I got to see what they looked like, I wouldn’t be so frightened of them. It would take a long time to understand that they weren’t there to destroy me, but to enjoy what I, or the character, had to say and do. The only way to serve them properly would be to be backstage preparing for the performance. Instead, I was avoiding the point by hanging out – outside. Eventually I would learn. Was this a situation of “not preparing properly” so that in case I failed, I would have my own personal excuse? I run into a few friends – all who are shocked that I am outside. Nevertheless, the show gets underway without too much hysteria or hoopla, and the audience surprises me no-end. They laugh hysterically at everything – they stand up and cheer at the end of the show; it was one of those magical evenings in the theatre that took me by surprise. I believed at that point that my weak stomach was because of what I had taken on, not because it was all imminently going to get bad. At least I convinced myself of it anyway…I take some twenty people to Carmine’s – the family style Italian restaurant, which is just a few doors down. It seems that everyone is quite happy. Maybe, it’s all going to be okay. On my way home, I walk to the corner of 44th Street and Broadway. I have a paper in my hand that must be thrown out. I am so in love with NY – and all the places I find myself living in, that if I drop a piece of paper on the ground, (dirty as the ground may be) I am known to try and find the piece of paper even amid a large crowd so that I may throw it out in the appropriate trash can. I never want to be one who is responsible for dirtying a city. So, as I approach the trashcan to throw out my piece of paper, I see two George Gershwin Alone program books, face up, almost untouched on the top of the garbage pile. I stare at them for only a second. It is at that very moment that I know. I am not welcome here, and the next months are going to be very painful. I turn the programs upside down so that passersby cannot see what show they belonged to. I brace myself for what I now know will be a disaster. I say this to no one, but I know, as well as I know anything. The only thing that I don’t know is how I will survive.
April 16-29, 2001
Way over budget. We don’t need a few thousand dollars – that’s always an easy swing – more like several hundred thousand. Turns out, once reality hits, we need new and different things, some monies were spent foolishly, there isn’t enough money for advertising, the show doesn’t look like a “Broadway” show in the press – more like a book tour. I am sick, I don’t sleep, I am doing performances, but they aren’t fun. Audiences are still standing and screaming after the show, but I just don’t believe them. What made this all worse was that I had miscalculated the amount that the opening night party would cost. As someone who loves to throw parties where people just enjoy and have fun, I thought it would be nice to have our opening night party at the elegant Plaza Hotel. Having six hundred patrons at about $120 per person…well the math isn’t that difficult to do. Had the invitations not already gone out, I would have changed the event to Sardi’s or something – but there it was, we were going to have the “Bar-Mitzvah” at the plaza which I always thought would be fun, and it was another huge expense on the show – which could have been better spent in advertising. So I borrow the monies that we need for the production and its budget from dear friends whose only desire is to help me succeed. I will never forget these people who gave me the freedom to do what needed to be done. It was all terrifying, but it was just the beginning. The critics begin coming to the show – I expect certain ones to like it, others to not, but I expect the criticism to come and go, like always, and the show to go on, and if the audience likes it, there it is…the daily ticket sales reports stay stable. They don’t grow, they don’t decline, they just stay the same. No matter how many shows we do, and how many people we send out. I don’t understand any of it. I can’t tell what people are thinking, I ask – but no one wants to tell the whole truth – at once, anyway. On certain days, I can see that there are people who are very excited about what they are hearing. On other days, the same people are depressed. What is going on around me? No one seems to be telling me the truth about anything when I ask. Why not? At this point, The Producers, my next-door neighbor opens to a windfall of reviews and box office. They are the hit of the season, if not the hit of all time. I had gone to the dress rehearsal. I enjoyed the play. How odd that we should be next door to one another…but what is nice is that in almost every photograph of the long lines at the ticket booth next door, our theatre, and our marquee has a great prominence. Amusing, but I still don’t feel well at all.
April 30, 2001
OPENING NIGHT ON BROADWAY. A warm, almost summer day. The reviews are in, but they only appear in the papers on the next day. The bills are paid, and I even let myself get a little excited. I hear from Keith, the PR guy. It is standard that calls are placed to the papers to hear about some of the buzz prior to the reviews appearing. Only two reviewers return calls – Bruce Weber of the NY Times, and Howard Kissel of the NY Daily News. They both say nice things. Not one other critic returns a call. I tell Keith that this is a sign – like the jury that looks at the defendant just before proclaiming the verdict. If they don’t look, the verdict is always “guilty.” I go to the theatre in the afternoon, I wander about town, I still feel so much like an outsider, and here I am, on Broadway, with my own one-man show that I created, wrote and produced. Well, not really on my own, because it takes so many committed people to make this work. The fact remains, whether I have real faith or not, I cannot tell you, but I am not prepared to let people who worked so hard fall with me – even in theory. It just wouldn’t be right.
I am in the theatre at about 5:30 pm. Curtain is at 7 pm – early - for press and party. Al Hirschfeld and his wife are the first to arrive. They take their seats before the house opens, because Al is older, and it isn’t best for him to wait standing in the lobby. As the Hirschfelds take their seats, I run through the" Rhapsody". I feel the great artist’s eyes and ears upon me. Hard to focus. When I finish he says. “That was good. Very good!” I convince myself that I am going to win the opening night audience over – but what I know is happening is that I need a good dose of denial to get through it. I of course, ask my self the question. Am I preparing for disaster because I am afraid of success? Am I going to shoot myself in the foot, as the excuse for failing? The answer is clear to me. No. I have a feeling – I have always had feelings like this. I know what’s coming, and I brace myself.
The performance goes over nicely. The audience is pleasant enough, but I am working hard to reach them. I hate this stage in this theatre, it is much too high. The piano sound in this theatre is ugly. There are no mistakes in the performance. Technically all goes well, but there isn’t that inexplicable magic that happens with an audience. I make a curtain speech thanking everyone who has ever been involved with the production. If anything, I am honest. I do the unthinkable. I say a “shehechiyanu” from the stage – the Jewish blessing that celebrates “firsts…” the first of the year, new clothes, a new idea…other such things. The audience answers “Amen.” I feel the emotion, I feel the tears. I know it will offend most tough New Yorkers and certainly those are primarily theatre people, as opposed to “people.” But at that moment, I know that I am making a statement about myself and my life, but the fact is that I haven’t reached the level yet where the statement is made by my actions, the statement must still be made by making the statement. One day I will be ready for the world stage. At that moment, I know that I am not, maybe one day I will be. I simply don’t know, but I’m just not ready to give up. Yet.
The audience packs off to the Plaza Hotel for a truly elegant party. Forty-five minutes later, I make my way over as well. I know that at midnight, when the reviews come out, my life will change. When I enter the party, I see friends, I hug a few, and I speak with one or two members of the press. There aren’t really very many there. Once again, a strong sign of the feeling about the piece. People offer congratulations saying that it is a brilliant work and presentation. I can barely smile. Why I know what will happen, I cannot tell you. A few minutes before midnight, a gang goes upstairs to the Vanderbilt Suite. We go on-line. The NY Times is the first review. It isn’t half bad, but it isn’t that great, but it certainly isn’t insulting. It takes the piece and my work seriously, but misses the point. It will be viewed as a good review, but it will not sell tickets. Rob Stone who has been filming all the proceedings for a documentary is filming as reality creeps in. I ask him to stop. Kim and I return to our apartment, even though we were supposed to stay over at the Suite. I ask a friend to stay at the suite so that it shouldn’t go to waste. We go to sleep. I can’t even talk.
May 1, 2001
There are some very nice reviews, there are a few lousy reviews, there are a few raves, there are a few vicious ones, but in the end, what it amounts to is something that no one can quite figure out. It is very strange. I just need to get through the next four months. It is all a blur. There are guest appearances, and important people giving me their vote. There are strange people who won’t even shake my hand or look me in the eye when I am introduced to them - as if I have offended them in some way, yet I had never met them before. Tickets do the same business every week. On the day of the Tony Awards, George Gershwin Alone, not nominated for anything was the only production to get eight minutes on The Today Show – with David Bloom. (Who later suddenly died in Iraq.) I found stories about me popping up here and there. In the end, what I would take away form the Broadway run is the one missing piece of the character of George Gershwin - the feeling of knowing that you have poured your heart, soul and experience into a work of art, and from some reviews, in one fell swoop, being told that it and you are worthless. Of course there were many who thought that Porgy and Bess was a work of genius, but if a few influential individuals for whatever reason dismiss you and your work, your whole outlook on life, and experience changes – for the better. I finally understood how George must have felt when Porgy and Bess was destroyed by the critics. Somehow, I knew I would be all right, but at the time, I didn’t know how I would get there. My wife Kim kept me emotionally on track. Thank god for Kim. She had the vision, knowledge, and real experience – she after all, had similar events happen to her when she was the leader of a country. My trials and tribulations were meaningless when compared to what she went through. One can always understand criticism; one can never understand gratuitous viciousness, which is what one finds in this business – especially from a specific collective of unaccomplished nasty people. These types run in packs, and find strength in packs. All this said, I managed, both personally and professionally to get through the five months on Broadway with the help of my wife, and we emerged just as strong and as loving, as we went in. All she kept on saying was…”remember. The adventure has only just begun.” I had no idea what exactly she was talking about, because in my mind, the adventure ended the day we opened at the Helen Hayes.
July 15, 2001
According to union rules, I have to announce that the production will close on the Tuesday before the Sunday closing. It is Monday night. I make the decision, and call my General Manager first. I tell him not to discuss this with anyone until the meeting at the advertising agency the next day. We will complete our limited engagement in the announced date.
July 16, 2001
Everyone joins the advertising meeting. I tell everyone that I will close the show. I tell them that it has been a tremendous experience, and that I will soon understand what happened, but not just yet. I am sad, as are members of the team, but I handle the announcement with aplomb.
July 22, 2001
George Gershwin Alone closes at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway. Some cake and cookies in the lobby. Goodbye to all…and I run to the airport to get on a plane to Italy, where I will play a concert on Tuesday night. There is no talk of George Gershwin Alone until I return, when I speak to my general manager about the outstanding bills. I look for concert engagements and go about creating a concert style revue to just continue working. I leave go of George Gershwin Alone - I think – forever. Eight months pass, I play concerts, and try to figure out what next.
March 15, 2002
I have given several high paying and high profile concerts and on whim, I ask the theatre in Florida to allow me to remount George Gershwin Alone for a month, to see if I still have it in me. I run George Gershwin Alone for a month. The production pays for itself, gets a lovely review and on a day off I travel to Boston where Kim is now ensconced at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I meet up with a friend who introduces me to Greg Carr – the man who “invented voice mail.” (!) He is also a theatre buff. He has heard of George Gershwin Alone. He introduces me to Rob Orchard, Executive Director of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge at Harvard. I email Rob Orchard some details about George Gershwin Alone. I send him a package with reviews, photos etc. I tell him that I need to decide what I will do during the summer. Word comes back. He would like to host the production for a two and a half week run at the A.R.T. as the theatre is usually dark during the summer, but this could be a nice thing to do. He also tells me that Robert Brustein (the infamous Artistic Director of the theatre) loves Gershwin and he will likely love this play as well. We make an agreement to open the show for previews on June 16th, with and opening night of June 19th. I return to Florida to run the show. I am pleased that at least I will have a couple of weeks with a decent financial deal. Maybe I will get my gumption back to run the thing for a week here…a week there…
I am in Boston, and I begin to practice and relearn George Gershwin Alone. I take out all the NY reviews and start looking for hints. I know that the piece is a good one, so how did certain critics miss the point. What angered them? What were they getting from my performance that set them off in the wrong direction? There was a lot of talk about the singing. In my mind, I thought it was obvious that a composer is not meant to sing beautifully but with style. I went after that kind of sound to keep true to the character. I always believed that if I sang pretty, the whole thing would come off like a light cabaret. It suddenly dawns on me. I need to explain the choice of this kind of singing. Opening lines of the play…I rewrite a sentence of dialogue to explain what exactly it is that I am doing as Gershwin. I also, find a smoother vocal presentation that is warmer and richer than the style I went with on Broadway. I also begin rethinking the character. What can I do to make him deeper – to bring forth the character that is a questionable one – self-indulgent, conceited, beloved, loathed…I begin with the program notes for the program book at the A.R.T. Perhaps this will help put my ideas in perspective. I remember how I didn’t go with my instincts in how to advertise or present this production to the press. I am very careful in interviews not to pump this event up as a big evening of Gershwin entertainment, but more as an evening alone with George Gershwin – a “master class” of sorts…I analyze every line of the play to make certain it is clear. Thankfully, the A.R.T. is a solid, well recognized, and famous institution. Every press outlet is interested in covering this story – so at least we will get some attention, and perhaps sell a few seats, and make a few dollars. But there is something running through my mind. At the very last meeting in NY, when I announced the closing of the show on Broadway, the head of the advertising agency asked me in front of everyone what I would do next with the show… “Boston, maybe…” I answered. “Kim is there…maybe I’ll do it in a small theatre…” “You’d be crazy,” she said. “You don’t want to risk another big city after New York. It will all be the same…” Well, I had to at least try.
June 1, 2002
I make an appearance at the good-bye dinner for Robert Brustein, who is giving up his post at the A.R.T., and being replaced by Robert Woodruff, also a well-known and fine director. I play “The Man I Love,” as well as a selection of the Rhapsody, and I close the evening with “Love is Here To Stay” dedicated to Brustein with the entire illustrious crowd singing…Plenty of A.R.T. alumnae and friends of Brustein – Cherry Jones says nice things to me about my "Rhapsody", Mike Wallace remembers my opening night on Broadway…all in all, a wonderful event. The next morning, the event is written up in the Boston Globe, and I am spoken of nicely. My fingers are crossed.
June 16, 2002
2 pm matinee. The house at the A.R.T. is quite full, mostly with the curious, the house goes to black, I run onto the stage, take my place at the piano in the dark, and the first note…the first line…welcome home. It feels natural, and I am completely involved in my work. On the final note of the Rhapsody, an hour and twenty minutes later, the roar of approval in the audience is magical. I stand to take my bow. In the blackout, the audience has already risen to its feet given the performance a standing ovation, and they seem very happy. I’m back – I guess...
Rob Orchard finds me and congratulates me. There appears to be great excitement. One of the individuals who interviewed me for the local press finds me after the show. She says that she will tell all her friends to get tickets immediately, because if they wait even a few days, there will not be any seats available. I do an evening performance. Same response. Joel is in to mount the show with me. New lighting design as well, which has helped matters. I was never pleased with the Broadway lighting presentation. It was cold and flat. So things are headed in the right direction, and I hope that maybe we can extend a week or so…After the show comes down for the evening, the production gang and I pack off to NY to do a concert at Lincoln Centre the next night. We return on Tuesday to continue performances.
June 19, 2002
Opening night of George Gershwin Alone at the A.R.T. Sure enough, there is a nasty noise in the hall – some attendee on a ventilator. Apparently, in a last minute effort to make certain that the hall is completely filled, a group of very ill, but mobile patients are invited. I don’t know about this until I am on stage. The whole thing tests my decency, but who am I kidding? I am so lucky to be alive and healthy. Just get on with it! The play earns a positive response. The encore earns cheers. I go down to my dressing room alone, within two minutes Brustein, Orchard and a whole gang comes down to my tiny hovel in the A.R.T. basement, including Zwick to give me a huge congratulations. Brustein hugs me. He says that the thing could run all year long, if I wanted. He says that there is no need for a season. I think that people are being nice. It is a good show after all. But then Brustein (a feared man in theatre, and a knowledgeable one as well, a man on the Pulitzer Prize committee, and a reviewer) takes me aside and discusses the virtues and the aspects of the piece and how it combines the lofty ideals of art with a humanity – he refers to it as being perfect in the way it combines the “high and the low.” What an odd experience – similar though, to NY – there are still critics who will emerge with their “wisdom” but there is one thing. This time around, I’m not on the hook for cash. If the production makes money, the company makes money. If not, I have no expenses, expect for living expenses, which I look after with concert income. The party after the show is at well-known Cantabrigian, Swanee Hunt’s house, People seem happy, but no different than anywhere else. On the way into the party the chair of the music department of Harvard introduces herself to me, and gives me her card. She offers to do anything for me. I tell her that I would love to be involved somehow, now that I have a residence in Cambridge. She says that the one thing she can offer me is the title of “Scholar in Residence” at Harvard’s music school. I hardly believe my ears.
June 20, 2002
I come into the A.R.T. at about 11 am just to see how ticket sales are doing, since now we have sent out some audiences. When I get to the door of the marketing office, Henry Lussier, the marketing director is holding a paper in his hands, and looks at me, and in a way that only Henry can says completely deadpan “well…here’s the first of your raves…” and hands me the Boston Herald. Apparently, the Herald scooped the Globe, and got in the review a day early. A Rave from top to bottom. Next day comes the Globe. A wonderful review. Throughout the week, more reviews begin to pile in, one after the other, great reviews. The first Saturday night is sold out. The box office begins to break regular daily records. The audiences flock. The play that was referred to as a phenomenon is doing it again. Wherever the magic went, suddenly, it was back. In full force. The extensions begin. The show plays throughout the summer. Every newspaper does a story, and 80% of ticket sales are coming from individuals who have never been to the A.R.T. before. Audiences are singing. I discover a song by the Gershwin brothers called “The Back Bay Polka,” sending up Boston and Bostonians. I begin using it in encores. Boston feels like it owns George Gershwin Alone. Some story about the play, about me, about Kim appears in the news on a daily basis. On my Birthday, July 9th, I go to NY. I have lunch at Sardi’s right beneath my caricature with some NY friends. What a way for things to go. Back in Boston, we extend four times. We even close down the show for three weeks in September because there has been another pre-booked show. I go to Paris for a few weeks, and then return with the show AGAIN! AND it sells out again. By that time, George Gershwin Alone had broken every box office for booked in shows at the A.R.T., given the most performances, and was referred to in the press as a mega-hit. NY press begins to pick up on it. I get a plaque. I also get the promise that I can return to the A.R.T. with any production, and that the A.R.T. would be happy to have me any time. Profiles appear in the press. Concert invitations abound. I start seeing a discussion about theatre in Boston in the press – and how I am referred to as “look at Hershey Felder” in reference as to whether summer theatre in Boston can work. Usually theatres would go dark. Apparently, my success has changed the viewpoint of theatre owners and operators in Boston. Summer IS a good time to run a show! It’s nice to have found my way back after such a trying and unusual time. It also forces me to look at what happened in NY. What exactly did happen? Although I had begun fixing issues that seemed wrong with the piece, it still was a good piece in NY. Perhaps there was more to do with Politics than I could have even imagined. Who knows? I just move along. I have always wanted to play the historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, not to mention playing the Nation’s Capital. It was always a bit of a dream – and for a piece like this, the Ford’s would be perfect. It’s the theatre in which Lincoln was shot. I make contact with the theatre and speak with the executive director, Brian Laczko. I send him a complete package. He promises he will get back to me, I hear nothing, and I begin leaving messages. But then, Susan Myerberg, our attorney and manager of the Helen Hayes, manages by some miracle and in her gentle way, to get Brian to think about putting GGA in the Ford’s. She at least manages to get him and his associate to come to Cambridge to see it.
October 12, 2002
Brian Laczko attends the performance of GGA at the A.R.T. He says a brief hello after the show. He is cold. Oh well, it was a nice try. That’s that. Jim Ireland, former director of Houston Grand Opera, and now director of Hartford Stage is also in attendance. He wants me to bring GGA to Hartford. I tell him that plans are open, don’t know just yet. I introduce him to Brian Laczko from Ford’s Theatre. Brian is very impressed. Two days later I hear from Susan that she has had a discussion with Brian, who says that I am a good performer, but he just doesn’t know… (whether it will work or not?? Yet another country heard from, as they say…) BUT that he will consider it. A week later, it is locked. DC will open on January 23rd, 2003.
October 17, 2002
Final performance of GGA at the A.R.T. A sold out success. A record-breaking success. All I can think about is that meeting in NY when I announced the idea to run in Boston at the closing meeting of George Gershwin Alone, and the advertising director looking at me from across the table and saying “you’re crazy…”
November 1, 2002
I spend the next few months doing a concert revue Back From Broadway in Boston, all the while thinking about how to make GGA even better. I think about character, the approach to pianism, the voice, I think about the whole etc. It’s all very interesting. I wonder what will happen in DC. We start working with Ford’s theatre. I take Nick Paleologos, who is a well known film and Broadway producer, as well as Jocelyn Laporte, new VP of Eighty-Eight Entertainment, my production company, as well as Darren Branon, the fellow who will stage manage Gershwin in DC on a day trip to see the theatre. We have fun. We lunch at the Hay-Adams Hotel and return to Boston that night. We meet everyone working at the theatre, come up with as many marketing ideas as possible. I wonder if any of this will work. Maybe Boston was a fluke (folks were bored during the summer – they needed a diversion?) This will be in the dead of winter, in a major town. What am I thinking? I don’t get involved in thinking about this too much.
Gershwin in DC gears up. Ticket sales are very slow. Invitations to the opening night go out. No one ever sent them to me for approval (as is clearly stated in my contract. I am the approval person on behalf of the Gershwin estate. I am not seeing advertising copy. Things are appearing that are not approved and have errors. Worst of all, an invitation to opening comes to my house, and doesn’t even have my name on it. It doesn’t have the director’s name on it. In fact, it only has the name of the play, and not even George and Ira’s name as I have guaranteed the Gershwins it will – on it. What is wrong with this place? Oh no. Ford’s Theatre was a huge mistake. I make so much noise that there is even a discussion of canceling the whole thing, and just not doing a show. Brian thinks it best, so do I. We both calm down. We say we’ll give it one last try. Ticket sales are still on the slow side. Lots of seats are empty. I get to DC with Jocelyn, Darren and my dog Chance. Chance and I have a beautiful Hotel room. I can see the White House from my window. What fun.
January 23, 2003
First performance at Ford’s. A decent house, not great. Technically tons of things go wrong. Light cues – slides…sounds – what a mess. But the audience roars and stands anyway. Brian comes back stage. He is pleased. The Technical Director of the theatre says that he has never heard a positive roar like that at the end of the Rhapsody. I am completely depressed. The show is a mess. How am I going to fix it? I scream and yell a little to my technical person, who sadly, isn’t up to the job in the way that I am accustomed. This one’s my fault.
January 24, 2003
The Diane Rehm show on NPR. An hour with Diane and Joel Zwick who has arrived – (he could only come to town in time to see the first preview – in time to set sound cue levels, and polish up the show. We have a great deal of fun doing the interview, but I am still nervous about ticket sales. People call in to the radio show – some who have even seen the show on Broadway, and say that it is the most wonderful thing that they have ever seen, and encourage listeners to go. I always panic when I hear that people will be calling in. Thank god for screeners. I am also always surprised when people endorse the show to that level. I guess the performance does touch people, and it stays with them. It’s a silly thing to say, but it is always a surprise. There is also something else interesting that goes on. Once I leave the stage, I don’t think of myself as the person who does what I just did. In fact, I don’t remember much of what went on, and I certainly don’t relive any moment. I even have a difficult time remembering any of the lines out of context. The man on the stage is someone else, and I am not like him at all. It’s all very unusual, to say the least.
When I arrive at the theatre that evening around 6 pm to practice, Brian Laczko comes to greet me and tells me that ticket sales have gone through the roof. He starts quoting dollars in the tens of thousands that even shock him. The performance that night goes off beautifully without any hitches. A show that we can all be proud of. The audience is beyond excited. With each progressive day, ticket sales get higher and higher. We are all in a bit of a state. But wait; there are reviews and an opening to contend with…
January 27, 2003
Opening night, Ford’s Theatre. Frankie Hewitt, Grande Dame of the Ford’s Theatre – who resurrected it in 1968 when it was in a state of disrepair, gives a curtain speech. They tell me back stage that this curtain speech is likely to be her last. She is dying of cancer. The performance begins. I vow to myself to give everything I have. If they are going to crucify me, it will be for what I HAVE done, not for what I was afraid to do. Teddy Kennedy and family are in the audience. So are other prominent Washington types – but there is a threat of war – or terrorism. The country is at Orange Alert. Folks are buying duct tape, and plastic wrap because there is a threat of chemical terrorism. I get to the theatre every day by walking in front of the White House. The whole thing is surreal. Zwick comes running backstage immediately after the show. He says that that is the best performance that Hershey Felder can give. The opening night party is the kind of elegant that I love – much like the one at the Plaza Hotel for Broadway; only this one is at the famous Ebbett’s Grill, across the street from the Whitehouse. The Kennedys are wonderful. The crowds are generous, thoughtful, loving, as if they had found a new best friend. It seems that the performance was a great success. But wait – the papers…!
January 29, 2003-February 23, 2003
I haven’t slept for two days, but ticket sales keep on going. 6 am. I get the paper delivered to my hotel room. Front page of the Washington Post Headline “Gershwin Alone, S’Wonderful, S’Marvelous!” And upward from there. I can hardly wait to call the theatre. 9 am. I find Brian. I tell him that we have gotten a money review. He’s as happy as I am. I relax. (No doubt, so does he.) I telephone Joel who has left town. At least we’ll do some business. I email a few New Yorkers to let them know that reviews were successful in DC. The rest of the day is spent doing nothing until practice time. I come into the theatre and head up to Brian’s office. A crowd mills about at the top of the stairs. Brian announces, “It’s the golden Boy!” I say, “Why?” He says “Because you have now sold more tickets in one day than any production in the theatre’s history.” Funny – when it happens, one takes it in stride. As if it were always meant to be that way. Another strange bit of behavior! I grab a private moment with Brian. I tell him that I was real nervous about this because of all of our to-ing and fro-ing about getting the show here in the first place, but…he is happy, I am happy…and we land up becoming the best of friends – our nerves out of the way. I adore Brian. He’s a terrific terrific fellow, runs a great theatre, and is now one of my “brothers.” Who could ask for anything more? Well, more is on the way…
The show sells out regularly, and it is an enormous hit in DC. One review is better than the next. I get invited to the White House for a private tour. Since 9/11 – all tours of the White House have been stopped. I don’t go just once, I go twice! A whole bunch of folks from the White House had come to the show. On a Monday night, I go to the world premiere of Ted Turner’s “Gods and Generals,” and find myself sitting next to Trent Lott. Bill Frist comes to Gershwin (how bad could things be in the world, if he has time off for a Sunday matinee?) Le tout Washington is coming to this show. I am told often enough that it is the talk of the town. But my favorite part is walking home after the show with the dog (who comes to the theatre all the time) and walking right in front of the White House. The dog usually poops in Lafayette Park, right in front. An editorial comment on the administration? Who knows? An f-14 flies overhead; anti-aircraft missiles are mounted all over town. The whole thing is beyond bizarre. During the day folks are shopping for duct tape, and in the evening they are coming to hang out with Gershwin. They tell me that they need the release – to sing encores after the show, and feel safe – family style.
I am then invited into the basement of the Library of Congress that houses all of the Gershwin manuscripts. I visit with Porgy and Bess, the Rhapsody, Chopin manuscripts, Beethoven manuscripts, Mozart manuscripts – the whole thing is so wonderfully magical! It’s a regular room – a storage room in fact, well protected – but ah! What treasures! That’s when I cannot believe all that is happening. This is what I always dreamed about – to be able to spend time among these masterpieces in this way – by myself, like being given the key to a kingdom because of one’s good work. Kim was right – the adventure had only just begun. I don’t want to leave. I make my way upstairs, and remember that hot summer day three years earlier when I sat at a desk in the reading room, looking over what Gershwin materials I was allowed to see, reading quietly into a tape recorder and crying…I stopped to stare at the desk where it all essentially began. I was a nobody. I begged my way in. I don’t know that I am any more of somebody now, but for a brief moment, it certainly does feel like I am. I am reminded that it was due to hard work, perseverance and Kim’s vision. And to think that I almost gave up. From where I was standing, near the desk where it all began, I could see anti-aircraft missiles being mounted on the lawn beside the Capitol Building, which faces the Library of Congress. I feel like I am an observer of a world that I don’t belong in. Or maybe I feel safer knowing that I am at the centre of the Universe in Washington DC, where anything that is going to happen, will happen. For some reason, I have the sense that all will end well. I’m just not nervous. I can’t figure out, if the play will end well, or all of it will end well. I would like to think that all of it would end well. A play is just a play.
I head back to my hotel, and begin to hear rumblings of the next major disaster. A snowstorm the likes of which DC has never seen. Now – all the news shifts from human terror threats to God induced ones. I have never seen news like this. One would think that Armageddon was upon us. Disaster warnings, flood warnings, travel warnings. It is almost as if, the media treats this as a far more serious threat than the prior week of Osama and his gang. And I think…maybe there was a real threat of chemical or biological terror. What if this is god’s way of protecting us? If no one is out on the streets because of a snowstorm, and no one is at work because they can’t get there – then there is no reason to cause real trouble. Who is it going to affect? We prepare for days with the snowstorm, and the shows are completely sold out. Now what? We play out the rest of the week, and then Saturday night – it’s still beautiful and warm, the show was packed, a huge success, and then somewhere in the middle of the night, the snow begins to fall. By morning the city is covered, by noon, there isn’t a soul to be found on the streets. The two completely sold out shows are cancelled. We’ll probably have to refund seats – because we have no extra days to make up for it! But I won’t let that happen! Since I will not deprive two full houses of the show, not to mention both the Ford’s and my bank account of some serious income, I call Brian and tell him that we will do two replacement shows on the final weekend. “When?” He says. “In between the matinee and evening shows on the final Saturday and Sunday.” He thinks I’m nuts, but I think he’s equally excited at the prospect of not losing the income. The storm calms down, and Tuesday’s show goes on as scheduled, though there are a few cancellations. At this point we add a Friday matinee to make certain that everyone has a chance to see the show. So – we have a show Tuesday, a show Wednesday, two previously scheduled ones on Thursday, two on Friday, three on Saturday 2:30, 5:00, 7:30 (like a factory!) And the same schedule for Sunday. Ticket holders for the last Sunday’s matinee can come to the 5 pm on Saturday, for the evening show, 5 pm on Sunday. I launch into the event. Turns out it’s easier than taking time off in between shows because there is no down time. By the third Rhapsody, I am a little on tired side, but it all feels good. And what a story to go home with! I am desperate to extend the run, but the Ford’s can’t - they have no choice. They have the Presidential Gala, and then they have another show. Ah well…the show closes and again breaks records – everyone is happy. Brian and I are great friends, and I love everyone at the Ford’s Theatre (always easier when one has a success!) But they are all wonderful people. And classy and elegant as well. They also like dogs, so my standard poodle, Chance, had a home and lots and lots of friends! I head back to Boston and then off to Paris with a gang to begin working on my next project about Chopin. On my way out of the theatre, the crew tells me that they have a distinct feeling that George Gershwin Alone hasn’t seen the end of it in DC. Who would have thought?
Trips to Paris with much of the same team from Gershwin – first with ten people, then with 22 people. A study work trip to go back in time, and find the world of Frederic Chopin, his lover George Sand, and their friend the painter, Eugene Delacroix. International concerts, trips to Los Angeles to work on the project and a discussion with the A.R.T. – the return of George Gershwin Alone to Boston. IMAGINE!!!! I also receive word from Philadelphia that the Prince Music Theatre would like to do Gershwin. Since I want to develop new shows, I think this is a good move because I understand that the Prince is a place where new work is done. So after a Gershwin run, they will hopefully be open to doing new work!
July 5, 2003
Re-opening at the A.R.T. of George Gershwin Alone. Once again, a high selling ticket. Repeat business from the year before. Folks tell me that it appears that the character has changed. The play has changed – it seems “darker” in content. (Who knows…a character should grow, shouldn’t he?) I rehearse Chopin, (Romantique) during the day – the production of which will open after a three-week run of Gershwin (Romantique sells out before it even opens!) And I perform Gershwin at night. This is something that I learn I cannot do – with all the hats that I wear. It is hard to focus on one character – and since I try not to rely on stock stage shtick to create a character, but actually go about it by finding the character from the inside, I learn a good lesson. Gershwin is a hit, Romantique is sold out based on the Gershwin show, but it isn’t ready for the big time. DC and Ford’s have now rebooked GGA for January, and after some haggling, GGA will open in Philadelphia on September 10th. I ask Michael Gilliam to redesign the lighting for Philadelphia, as I am still looking for the perfect design for GGA, which we still have not found. Zwick is now busy on a new movie, which is good for him, so he can’t come to Philly, but that’s okay, we will stay in touch, and he will rejoin us for new things on the horizon.
September 10, 2003
Philly first performance. A strange audience. I’m not certain they’re getting it; I am told that preview audiences are generally older. That should be even better! I am a little baffled. Folks are missing the jokes! Whatever the audience does – the lighting is absolutely smashing – finally as beautiful as I think we can get it. There is still a ways to go, but we’ll get there. It will be just wonderful! Hard though in this theatre. The A.R.T. and Ford’s have such expansive stages. Although the Prince Theatre in Philly has a high proscenium, it isn’t as wide, so I don’t have the expanse with which to work, which I very much enjoy. I feel boxed in, but I am told that the production looks beautiful. I am thrilled.
September 13, 2003
Opening night. Again, s strange audience, but I give a committed performance. There is something different about Philadelphia. After some research, I discover that it is a working man’s town, that sensibilities are different than anywhere else I have played, they like “entertainment” more – and that the places I have played to date are driven by power, money, intelligentsia etc. Very interesting. So how – can I craft this show without playing “down to the audience…” I keep on hearing that the audience members LOVE the encores – they give an ovation to the encores. They keep on talking about these encores, and I am at a loss for shtick in Philly. They know all the words and they are desperate to sing, more than any other city. In DC, they loved the idea – they loved to be soloists – here in Philly, they just all really love to sing!
September 15, 2003
Reviews. Good all around. We extend the run for a short time, and record a new radio commercial using members of the audience who had just seen the show. One lady said, “I enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed Les Mis. MAYBE EVEN MORE!” Now, SHE made it onto the commercial! Having fun, but I must admit, the theatre management is a little rough. Technically, the stage is run as well or better than any Broadway house, and certainly any house I have ever been in, but I hope the upstairs office can make the best of their world. Ah well. I hope the best for them in their endeavors. Nevertheless, interesting - in the Philadelphia Inquirer, though, a wonderful review, however, the reviewer comments on the character of Gershwin – how in my portrayal he is not likeable – clearly a choice. He calls the script fine and intelligent, and the performance superbly delivered. He also says that one suspects that Gershwin was as I portrayed him, as during the encores I am so warm and engaging. In fact, this reviewer talks first about the encores as well. It’s a rave review, but I wonder if some of Chopin’s aloof hard edge has crept into Gershwin. I start toying with the character to find that loveable man that Gershwin always was. I soften him up a bit. Audiences start laughing whole-heartedly again, and right on cue, right at the final note of the Rhapsody – there they were, right up on their feet. An interesting choice, Philadelphia is not interested in what may be an ugly side. Naturally, once cannot avoid it, it would be artistically not fulfilling, and really quite flat – all part of an interesting psychology of the theatre and those who attend it. I must remember, as plans are now being made for London, Chicago, etc. to find a way to combine the “wonder” essence of the man, with the arrogance that is driven by fear and insecurity, coupled with success…There was a reviewer in Boston who said “Felder’s Gershwin is a mentch and a half” as if it were completely enjoyable, but that being a mentch is a bit of a sin. Well he can’t be horrible, who would want to spend time with him? And of course, the script supplies the actor with all the goods – certainly enough material with which to make choices. I can’t ever stop thinking about how to make this better, how to touch audiences, how to make George Gershwin true and honest, and of course how to live up to the honor that I have been so unbelievably and graciously given. To play the role and music of America’s greatest composer for an audience that loves him more than anything in the world.
October 4, 2003
Philly is done, which is a good thing, because I found myself eating WAY too much, gained some weight. Never fun to do Gershwin that way. The management of the theatre provides for some interesting business affairs – but never mind. All’s well that ends well! I get many invitations, fan letters, fan mail, all kinds of things – perhaps more than other towns. It seems that people really loved the production. Well, we came out with wonderful reviews, and a great following. Now for the character – a new discussion for the diary: Keep the voice dark and warm, but not arrogant – there is danger in the character’s arrogance. It is more about the wonder and the complete and utter joy and surprise at the kind of music that he actually comes out with. He is even surprised at his own statements. Keep him alive – when he gets tired, he begins to recite – and that is VERY dangerous, so one must be careful. Above all remember the joy – how much George loves his music, and if anything, how sad he is that he can’t do it anymore, because he is “gone.” Just remember the “joy” right from the top of the show – and everything will work. Promise!
October 9, 2003
Plans are now being made for a potential date in Chicago and London. Travel plans being made – we’ll see… Travel to Chicago in a few weeks (but really good conversations with press folks and so on…) and I’ve even chosen four theatres in London’s West End that seem like possibilities. Who knows? It’s all very exciting, and really expensive – but in the meantime, DC is coming up – and I am practicing Chopin…and every day is a new day.
November 7-13, 2003
After a concert in Madrid, followed by a week in Valldemossa on the Island of Majorca studying Chopin and his residency there with George Sand, I head to London and meet producers Nick Paleologos and Frank Gero who introduce me to Ian Stephenson, theatrical general manager as well as Peter Thompson, famed London PR man. We look at several West End theatres as a potential for George Gershwin Alone, and the one that strikes me as the safest is The Duchess. A simple, 469 seats small proscenium that has an air of art-deco to it. Currently, Sir Peter Hall’s Betrayal is playing there. It may be extended, it may not. We have meetings with DeWynters – the most prominent advertising agency, and sit around the dinner table and discuss the possibility of a London appearance to death. Of course, getting the theatre will be the most difficult of all. In the meantime, Chicago won’t work, because I can only have the theatre for eight to ten weeks in the middle of winter, and so, maybe London is a good idea. Internally, I am very nervous about this commitment. Once again, it involves other people. What if it loses money? Oy vey. Who needs this? But again, to risk, or not to risk? More concerts through November, and December, and some heavy duty thinking. Maybe it’s better not to pursue this one. Maybe I should. What do I know?
December 8, 2003
The telephone call comes. We have been granted the Duchess Theatre in London’s West end. We load in on February 2, first preview, February 6, Opening night, February 17th. Who knows if any of this will work? I make plans to travel to London after a weekend of concerts in Los Angeles, Boston and DC.
December 16-21, 2003
Travel to London, and have meetings with everyone on the London team. Everyone is very kind to me, and wants to be helpful, and help in every way. When I thank these individuals for such a lovely time, and such a lovely experience, and for being so kind - they all say the same thing, with a smile and twinkle in their eye… “Just wait. London can be very interesting…” Famous words again. “Oy vey.” Stay tuned…this should definitely be interesting…
George Gershwin Alone Website
George Gershwin Alone in London
Gershwin & Ira Website
Hershey Felder chats to Judi Herman about Gershwin - and about Felder!
The Fascinating Rhythm of George Gershwin
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Hershey Felder in George Gershwin Alone
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