New York City, New Play, One Man Show, Off Broadway

Maestro of modern music

Maestro

Review by Angel Lam 

Off Broadway, Solo Show
Extended through 23 OCt 2016
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street NYC

Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro. Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents.

BOTTOM LINE: Hershey Felder brings Leonard Bernstein to life in this vivid, touching play about Bernstein's passions and his lesser-known personal journeys in life and music.

What a delight to see maestro Leonard Bernstein come back to life in Hershey Felder's solo play Maestro. It is such a rare opportunity to see the combination of great acting, singing, conducting, and piano performance! Combining the music of classical composers that inspired Bernstein, and spanning the twentieth century, Maestro tells the story of a great musician, conductor, composer, pianist, author, teacher, and a television star, who became one of America's greatest musicians and a musical ambassador to the world.  

Bernstein, as composer and conductor, was one of those rare musicians who could bridge our lush musical past with the twentieth century, using classical, jazz, Jewish folk music, musical theatre, Latin-American music, and non-tonal sounds as his musical palette. We hear this perfect, beautiful fusion in his musical West Side Story (1957), his opera Candide (1956), his Symphony No. 3 Kaddish (1963), just to name a few. And although he died in 1990, he lives on in the twenty-first century, well-remembered worldwide both for the great works he has composed, and for his prodigious talents as a multi-disciplinary musician.  

Maestro tells a deeply personal portrait of the musician, from his childhood interest in music and the continuous disapproval of his austere, religious father, to his relationships with mentors and his loving wife Felicia. It is an inspiring tale, coming from a playwright who deeply understands the soul of music, and not just its tuneful melodies, chords and structures; writer-performer Felder is clearly someone who truly loves music and is able to capture, in words and stories, the transcending, life-changing qualities of great music from our past masters. 

Felder mentions two contemporaries of Bernstein, composers George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, and their different serious styles. Despite Bernstein having a highly successful career in conducting, Maestro reveals his internal struggle as a composer, namely, his dilemma about the defining line between being a "serious" composer, like Aaron Copland, and the more popular musical theatre composer that he is remembered as. One of the greatest wishes for any composer is for their music to live on, to attain musical immortality like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, or Mahler. Can Bernstein do it? Can he achieve that monstrously difficult task of being considered alongside the other giants?

The staging and direction by Joel Zwick is compact and streamlined. Felder's performance is highly engaging, as he impersonates characters of different nationalities throughout the story and performs, sings, and tells stories while at the piano. This is a fascinating play, a must-see even if you are a beginner to music.

(Maestro plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through October 23, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3 and 7. (There are also performances on Thursdays at 2: September 29 and October 13. There are no performances on September 24 or October 11. There is no evening performance on Sunday October 2.)  Tickets range from $25 to $70 ($25 to $49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or visit 59e59.org.)

 

Maestro is by created and performed By Hershey Felder. Directed by Joel Zwick. Music is by Leonard Bernstein, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Gustave Mahler and Richard Wagner. Set Design is by Francois-Pierre Couture. Lighting and Projection Design is by Christopher Ash. Sound Design is by Erik Carstensen. Production Stage Manager is Rebecca Peters.

59E59 Theaters, East 59th Street, New York, NY, 10022:

 

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