Hershey Felder scores in ‘Monsieur Chopin’ 

click to enlarge Hershey Felder
  • Hershey Felder portrays the great Romantic composer and pianist in “Monsieur Chopin” at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre through next week.
Could it be that Hershey Felder’s success portraying musical men of genius is because he has his own smattering of genius?

The gifted musician, actor and writer is back in Berkeley, appearing as the great Romantic-era composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin in “Monsieur Chopin.” The solo show-concert is in the same league, perhaps even better, than his equally beguiling, similarly formatted presentations on George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein (also seen recently in Berkeley).

In “Monsieur Chopin,” Felder, as Chopin, addresses patrons in the audience as if they were first-time piano students visiting his music room in Paris in 1848; a period piano and furnishings in a set by Yael Pardess nicely evoke the 19th century.

For this initial lesson, he will do all the playing. And play he does, beginning and ending beautifully, all the while describing how the sounds and spirit of his native Poland inspired his musical compositions.

He’s funny, too, and not modest, as he tells of his mostly successful debut in Vienna (and one detractor) and, later, his years in Paris, where he lived the latter portion of his young life, attracting notice from famed pianist Franz Liszt (not one of his favorites) and noted writer George Sand, a strong woman who dressed like a man.

At the time, art salons were the amusements of the day, and through them he hooked up with Sand, and they began an often troubled eight-year affair. As he relates the demise of their liaison, it’s punctuated by a powerful performance of Chopin’s “Prelude in C Minor.”

Directed by Joel Zwick (of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame), Felder masterfully mixes history, anecdotes and emotion throughout the intermission-less 1 hour, 45 minute show, which never feels too long.

At the end, he offers the opportunity for questions from the audience, allowing his “students” to glean even more detailed historical points not covered in the lesson, such as his assessments of colleagues and predecessors (he admired and revered Bach and Mozart, but thought Beethoven noisy) and the circumstances of his death at 39.

On Sunday’s opening night, Felder even received a special honor from a Polish diplomat, who commended him for his contributions to his country’s culture.

In the end, though, Felder’s performances of polonaises, mazurkas, nocturnes and preludes, played with the love and emotion so critical to the composer, couldn’t be a more grand promotion — not just for Poland, but for Chopin and art itself.


Monsieur Chopin

Where: Thrust Stage, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 10

Tickets: $29 to $87

Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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