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Is that Leonard Bernstein or Hershey Felder on stage at Cleveland Play House

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Leonard Bernstein is noted as the first conductor of a major orchestra who was born in America.  His talent as a composer, author, music lecturer and pianist has made his name a household word.  Besides his long tenure as the musical director of the New York Philharmonic, he is noted as the composer of such Broadway shows as WEST SIDE STORY, CANDIDE, WONDERFUL TOWN, and ON THE TOWN.  His most noted classical composition was MASS, dedicated “To the memory of John F. Kennedy.”

Canadian Hershey Felder is recognized as a pianist, actor, playwright, and composer.  His fame has mainly centered on his portraying well known composers and performers.   An accomplished pianist, performing in such pieces as GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE, MONSIEUR CHOPIN, BEETHOVEN: AS I KNEW HIM, Felder not only takes on the persona of the man whose life he is presenting, but also plays the person’s music.


As the audience enters the Allen Theatre, on a large background consisting of a page of music, a video of the late Leonard Bernstein giving one of his masterful lectures on how to conduct, is seen.  Also present is a piano, several chairs and a television camera.  At one point in the video, in a smooth transition, Bernstein’s image is replaced by that of Hershey Felder.  At that moment Felder appears on the stage as Bernstein.

What follows is a personal exposition with Felder (Bernstein), in present tense language, telling of his transition from a young son of Orthodox Jewish Russian immigrants to his untimely death.

We learn of his tenuous relationships with his father, mother, wife, and male lover, as well as his tenacity in meeting and becoming an associate with many kings of the classical and theatrical world including Aaron Copeland, Serge Koussevitzky, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins.

He shares the startling story of his assent into the rarified world of conducting when, on November 14, 1943, while serving as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, without any rehearsals, he was thrust on stage to replace conductor, Bruno Walter, who had suddenly become ill.  A fairy tale ending results in Bernstein’s quick assent into recognition as a major conductor.

As Felder has proved when he appeared on the Cleveland Play House stage in 2008 and 2010, he is a master storyteller and a competent pianist and vocalist.  His MAESTRO: LEONARD BERNSTEIN is by far his best imitation of a life lived.

He looks somewhat like the maestro, has developed the vocal and physical affectations of Bernstein, and melds himself so well into the character, that it is difficult to separate the two.  The script is well written.  The performance effectively acted and played.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  MAESTRO:  LEONARD BERNSTEIN is a compelling evening of discovery which exposes not only the life of a real person, but is an intriguing probe into the world of music and life in the arts.  This is a must see for anyone interested in music and theatre.

MAESTRO:  LEONARD BERNSTEIN runs through August 6, 2013 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to