Maestro: Leonard Bernstein

Now playing at Cleveland Play House, Maestro: Leonard Bernstein gives us a very intimate look at the life of one of America’s best loved composers. Like last summer’s One Night with Janis Joplin, CPH is offering another special summer production, both entertaining and insightful, to Greater Cleveland audiences. And as with everything at CPH, it is nothing less than wonderful.

Who was Leonard Bernstein? He might be best known as the composer of West Side Story, Wonderful Town, On the Town, and the opera Candide, but he was so much more… including, but not limited to, conductor, pianist, author, teacher, librettist, and even television star. And Hershey Felder gives us the “complete” Leonard Bernstein in his fascinating and touching one man show.

Leonard Bernstein was born Louis Bernstein in 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Born into a Ukrainian Jewish family, Bernstein’s father did not want to see his son pursue a career in music, but despite his father’s wishes, he became one of music’s most celebrated artists. And despite Bernstein’s many musical accomplishments, it is interesting to note that nothing that he did in life has ever achieved the commercial success or critical acclaim as that of West Side Story (1957). That one single show, a standard in the American musical canon, was something new, different, special, and it is considered to be one of the greatest works of musical theatre. But again, Leonard Bernstein was so much more. And Hershey Felder shows us all that Bernstein accomplished before his death in 1990 at the age of 72.

Throughout the play, Mr. Felder gives us a very personal Leonard Bernstein, as he presents not just his work, but his soul. Leonard Bernstein was a very talented man, but also a man with many conflicts. The play explores these conflicts via Bernstein’s professional and personal struggles, as well as, many relationships in his life, especially, those with his often stern father and his beloved wife, Felicia. But perhaps, the most significant relationship was that of the man and his music.

Like Leonard Bernstein, Hershey Felder is a multi-faceted man, himself. And this Canadian pianist, actor, playwright, composer, and producer, has performed several times before at Cleveland Play House. Best known for his “Composer Sonata,” Mr. Felder has embodied George Gershwin in George Gershwin Alone, Fryderyk Chopin in Monsieur Chopin, and Ludwig von Beethoven in Beethoven, As I Knew Him. And now is your chance to see his interpretation of Leonard Bernstein in this well conceived production at Cleveland Play House. This is the first play that I have seen from Mr. Felder. But I look forward to future works by this very talented artist.

Mr. Felder’s very intimate portrayal of Mr. Berstein is entertaining, memorable, and poignant. It can be a somewhat emotional experience, at times, and it does “tug at one’s heart.” To think that so many artists… be they writers, performers, composers, whatever… could never see their greatness, in their lifetime, as we do today is somewhat sad. But these are the times when they get their due. Leonard Bernstein was the Maestro, in so many senses of the word. And he will always be remembered for his exceptional contributions to the musical arts in America and the world. Maestro: Leonard Bernstein will run through August 4 in the beautiful Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. And this is a show not to be missed.

As it approaches its 100th Anniversary, Cleveland Play House will open its 2013-2014 Season with Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie (September 13 – October 6) in the Allen Theatre, followed by Venus in Fur (November 1-24) in the Second Stage Theatre. And A Christmas Story will return for a special holiday season engagement to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the classic film (November 29 – December 22). A Christmas Story holds a special place in Clevelanders’ hearts as it was filmed right here in our fair city.

2014 will offer Yentl (January 10 – February 2), Breath and Imagination (February 14 – March 9), Clybourne Park (March 21 – April 13), Informed Consent (April 23 – May 18), and Tappin’ Thru Life (May 30 – June 22), which will close the season and serve as the “anchor production” of the New Ground Theatre Festival. Subscription packages are available. But whether you choose to see one, two, or all eight CPH productions, you will be attending one of Cleveland’s cultural treasures and one of the best professional theatre companies in the nation.

Cleveland Play House, the nation’s first and longest-running professional theatre company, is in its 97th season of entertaining Greater Cleveland audiences. For more information about Cleveland Play House, Maestro: Leonard Bernstein, or the 2013-2014 Season, please visit the CPH website at http://www.ClevelandPlayHouse.com. More information about PlayhouseSquare can be found at http://www.PlayhouseSquare.org.

- Christopher S. Musselman

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About PositivelyCleveland

Positively Cleveland is the destination marketing organization that has been promoting business and leisure tourism to Cleveland for more than 75 years.

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