Saturday, September 21, 2019

Monsieur Chopin’s Piano Lesson.

Soo. If you can play the piano and to a degree are willing to share your talents with your fellow theatre goers, be prepared to decide, or not whether you want to play for Monsieur Chopin. No one raised a hand the night I attended. Better left unsaid.

Hershey Felder is back at it again with his continuing bios of music of famous musicians from Beethoven, to Gershwin, to Liszt, to Tchaikovsky, to Irving Berlin to Leonard Bernstein to “Lincoln: An American Story”.  
Hershey Felder as Chopin (photo: Hershey Felder)
Felder, no stranger to any of those famous listed above, is reprising, revisiting and updating his “Monsieur Chopin” that he presented to audiences at The Old Globe in 2006. This two hour no intermission show is now up and running in the Lyceum Theatre through Oct. 8th.

In a smaller venue and surrounded by an audience on three sides, it gives a more intimate feeling, one as if you are there. It is at this point that he invites us into his drawing room with a large candelabra hanging above and smaller ones on tables. The one above changes colors from lavender to orange (Erik S. Barry). Gilded framed mirrors are on three walls. The piano is covered in parts by throws and a lounge and comfortable occasional chair (Hershey Felder) are surrounded by windows with projections of weather storms to parlors to showing patrons being entertained at private concerts. It’s Paris 1648 just days after Feb. Revolution.

Felder, the consummate story- teller brings us all back to Fryderyk Chopin’s beginnings, in Poland as a young boy and a piano. At the start he sets out to tell us of his family, and how the conditions in Poland influenced his music. He talks of his older and younger siblings, a beloved sister who died young, and his own struggles with depression and sickness. (The Funeral March his Piano Sonata No. 2)
In Reflection 
For unlike Mozart, he didn’t have benefactors or the state to help him. He made most of his living from the sale of his sheet music. and the generosity of wealthy patrons. He traveled Vienna where he made a successful debut and was noticed by Franz Liszt (who he kind of blew off as a minor player). He played in salons and private homes of those who invited him in.

He came under the protective eye of writer George Sands aka Amantine Dupin, a woman who dressed like a man. They lived together for eight tumultuous years, through sickness and health. As described by the artist, it didn’t sound like a healthy relationship, but rather that Chopin needed her more than she, him. (“Prelude in C Minor” and the Blue Note’… looking for a melody).

Directed by Joel Zwick (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) the play starts out as a piano lesson. He invites us into his salon and directs our attention to a small silver box where we can drop a few coins for the teaching.  But more than a piano lesson, it is the of the art of playing and understanding what the sounds represent rather than the how to of how to play.

Felder delves into the life story of Chopin interrupting to take questions from the audience, answers the questions in character and then returns to play any number of his most appreciated Waltzes, Nocturnes, Polonaises and Mazurka, Nocturne in E Flat Major while letting his fingers do the walking and taking.

As much the story teller as the musician this particular concept becomes a bit distracting when the focus is away from what’s going on on stage to a change in attention to an audience member, who oft times could be heard or seen, to ask a question. The idea is an interesting one  but pushes the limits of one’s sitting powers (2+hours) with no break.

The new piece is theatrical, informative as only someone of Felder’s stature can afford. It’s an overall entertaining and learning experience, one with a bit of humor thrown in as the storyteller looks back as someone deceased telling his story in retrospect and with new eyes.

That said, when you are in his company and you are tasting, feeling and listening to him play his Polonaise in A-Flat major, Op.53 you will think you died and went to heaven. It’s exhilarating!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 6th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Phone: 619-544-1000
Production Type: Musical
Where: 79 Hort0n Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices:  Start at $35.00
Venue: Lyceum Space
Photo: Hershey Felder 

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