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

In the last twenty years, Hershey Felder has played over 4,500 performances of various towering figures of music. He has played George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Frederic Chopin. Basically, if you need to evoke a famous composer, call Felder. I have long been familiar with his work, but have not had the opportunity to see him perform-until now.

Currently, he is channeling Leonard Bernstein every night for 100 minutes at 59E59 Theater and all that is left from me is regret that I did not see this actor’s earlier works.

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

In Maestro, Felder, who also wrote the book to the play, fully explores a man whose name is so synonymous with symphony and musical theater music that it’s hard to comprehend the artistic world (or any world for that matter) without him.  Through Joel Zwick’s sharp direction, Bernstein’s life is fully fleshed out, warts and struggles laid bare.

Even non-musical theater fans are familiar with the work Bernstein created. Most notably, West Side Story.  It’s impossible to believe but, according to Felder, Bernstein felt that “it was a piece of juvenilia-that’s all it was. Just a piece of silly juvenilla- it was so starry eyed, so dreamy, and it wasn’t much of a piece at all.” Oh!  that any of us could have such a talent for his self proclaimed “juvenilia”!

Felder explores his rise as a conductor and composer (both of which were conflicting interests for Bernstein), a challenging but ultimately healing relationship with his father, and the dalliances he had with men while married to his wife, Felicia.

Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents
Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents

Love is a prominent theme here as well: Godly love, A love for Jewish mysticism, love of music, and romantic love. Bernstein often struggled with these aspects but they informed the contributions that he left behind.

Felder may not physically resemble the late maestro, but it really doesn’t matter.  He undoubtedly captures his essence, and, thanks to a strong script, he makes us feel as though we were sitting in the apartment of a trusted friend listening intently as he shares his fascinating life.

The “Maestro” has been extended and will play through Oct. 23rd at 59 E 59 Theater between Park and Madison. Click here Maestro Tickets.