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Felder takes on diverse tasks portraying great composers

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“Hershey Felder, Beethoven” is onstage in a TheatreWorks presentation in Mountain View. (Courtesy Christopher Ash)
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Hershey Felder, in Mountain View this month performing his one-man show about Ludwig van Beethoven, calls what he does “the work of a crazy man.”

“It’s a combination of distinctive things that don’t go together naturally,” says the Canadian actor and pianist, who’s made a successful career of portraying famous composers.

In “Hershey Felder, Beethoven,” he not only portrays Western music’s most revered composer, he plays the man’s music, too, in performances rivaling what’s heard in the world’s top concert halls.

“Playing music is not an extroverted sport,” says Felder, describing how his task is to “smooth out” the contrasting extroverted quality of acting vs. the inward-looking aspect of a musical performance.

It’s a thing he’s been doing successfully for some 20 years, covering artists including George Gershwin, Frederic Chopin, Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein. (His take on Tchaikovsky comes to TheatreWorks in 2018.)

He finds it hopeful that children really tap into the lives of the classical composers, noting that “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” tends to be about “Grandma showing you what her life was like.”

His Beethoven show departs from his other works in that it’s told not solely by the composer, but in flashback, mostly from the perspective of a boy, Gerhard von Breuning, who was Beethoven’s friend’s son; the youngster also was Beethoven’s companion when he was ill at the end of his life.

“It’s essentially a love story between a 12-year-old boy and Beethoven,” says Felder.

Like all of his productions, it’s meant to enlighten as well as amuse.

“Theater isn’t just about being entertained and moved,” Felder says. After a performance, “You want to come out knowing more than when you went in.”

To that end, “Beethoven” thrillingly tells very human stories describing the genesis of beloved works such as Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor (popularly known as “Moonlight Sonata,” a name Beethoven didn’t like) and Sonata “Pathetique,” which was written as Beethoven realized he was going deaf (and is the only composition Beethoven himself gave a title).

The show also illustrates the composer’s love of the key of C minor, as well as his revolutionary treatment of dark vs. light.

Felder, also a playwright and composer, says he’s “in search of storytelling colors he doesn’t hear in others” when writing his own music.

Speaking of taste, he’s also recently been allowing himself a few liberties with his diet: “A cheat day won’t kill me once a week,” he says.

What he won’t be doing, however, despite frequent requests, are shows about Cole Porter or Leonard Cohen. It’s not that they’re not worthy, he says, but they’re not his “thing.”


IF YOU GO

Felder, Beethoven
Presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 2
Tickets: $45 to $105
Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.TheatreWorks.org

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