Hershey Felder is the master of the one-man show when it pertains to composers.
Felder, along with his longtime collaborator director Joel Zwick, have produced works based on the lives and music of Gershwin, Chopin and Beethoven.
Now, it’s Lenny’s turn.
“The others were more driven by the fact that I wanted to investigate the lives of these characters and their music in context of when the music was composed,” says Felder. “This one came to me from a different direction. This actually came to me because theater patrons all over the country were saying, ‘We’d really love to see you do Bernstein.’”
This went on for 10 years — until this past September when Felder and Zwick debuted “Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein." The show is now playing at the Geffen Playhouse. It runs through Dec. 12.
“This is the beginning of a journey with this character,” says Felder. “And it seems the public likes it.”
Also unlike the previous personas he’s embodied, Felder grew up with Bernstein. Lenny, as he was known to his friends — but not to Felder, who reverently refers to him as Bernstein — was his generation’s conductor and composer emeritus.
Bernstein’s career spanned five decades beginning in the 1940s. He is perhaps best known as the longtime music director for the New York Philharmonic and composer of numerous symphonies and other orchestral pieces, as well as the score for the 1954 film “On the Waterfront,” which earned him an Oscar nomination. His contributions to Broadway included collaborations on such classics as “West Side Story,” “Wonderful Town” and “On the Town.” Bernstein died in 1990.
“So he wasn’t a long-lost character for me,” says Felder. “He was part of my growing up. He was the American musical hero. So, did I discover anything new? No. But I think what I did discover was a look into who he was as a person. And that’s complicated. He was a contradiction in lots of terms.”
In “Maestro,” Felder attempts to bring out all aspects of Bernstein, who he calls a little “Mozartian” in that he could be silly and serious, complicated, determined and thoughtful.
Bernstein, says Felder, was a normal — and brilliant — modern person.
Kim Nowacki contributed to this story.