Hershey Felder portrays Claude Debussy in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s premiere of “Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story” in Mountain View. (Courtesy Christopher Ash)

Hershey Felder charms as Debussy in ‘A Paris Love Story’

Another great musical show from the performer, pianist, playwright

If you don’t already love the eternal city of light, or the “new music” of turn-of-the-century French composer Claude Debussy, you’ll likely be enamored of both after seeing “Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story” at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

You might also fall in love with the witty performer-pianist-playwright Felder himself as he portrays the composer describing, with a spot-on French accent and a twinkle in his eye, his creative (and romantic) life, and playing such gorgeous pieces as “La mer” and “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.”

This is Felder’s most personal solo work. Over the years, he has embodied seven musical geniuses of the 19th and 20th centuries — TheatreWorks alone has staged his shows about Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Irving Berlin — but in this one he deftly weaves his own memories into his portrayal of the passionate (and, it must be said, womanizing) composer.

So Felder not only takes on the composer’s persona to describe an exceptional life but also to follow, from a distance, himself at 19 on his first trip to Paris, a wide-eyed flâneur who reverently visits Debussy’s house on what is now l’avenue Foch.

In particular, in character as Debussy throughout, Felder relates an affecting Felder-family story about his mother, who adored Debussy’s music.

And, ever as Debussy, he explains his one rule of music: That it be pleasing to the ear. Then it can “transport us to a world of dreams.” He relates his influences (among them, poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé and artist James McNeil Whistler’s “Whistler’s Mother”) and makes caustic remarks about Wagner’s pounding compositions, which he loathes.

He gleefully confesses being seduced by a benefactor at 17, mentions other romances, confides his devotion to his daughter, Chou Chou, above all others and, as an iconoclastic, so-called Impressionist musician, muses on his deepest artistic beliefs.

The play is enhanced by Felder’s own set design — two little lamp-lit bridges across the Seine — as well as by an occasional background orchestral score (sound design by Erik Carstensen) and projections of simple black-and-white sketches evoking iconic Parisian landmarks (lighting and projection design by Christopher Ash).

Directed by frequent collaborator Trevor Hay, “A Paris Love Story” is an entrancing blend of storytelling and, as always, Felder’s piano playing.

This world premiere is Felder’s gift to TheatreWorks, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, and an appreciative farewell to founder-artistic director Robert Kelley, who will retire at the end of the upcoming season.

REVIEW

Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story

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 May 5

Tickets: $40 to $120

Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org

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