Hershey Felder as America’s favorite composer in George Gershwin Alone at Berkeley Rep. Photo: Mark Garvin

George Gershwin Alone is a bright and breezy one-man show written and performed by Hershey Felder using the glorious music and lyrics of George Gershwin (1898–1937), and his brother, Ira (1896–1983). Felder, playing George Gershwin, fascinates the audience as he describes Gershwin’s short life and plays some of his greatest pieces.

Felder is no slouch himself. A talented concert pianist, composer and actor, he spent five years researching and reading Gershwin’s original manuscripts and correspondence. He interviewed biographers and family members, and had unfettered access to the Gershwin archives.

George Gershwin wrote over 1,000 popular songs for Broadway and the movies, many of which you have probably heard. I checked my iTunes library and found 30 of them performed by artists from Cannonball Adderley to Janis Joplin, including “The Man I Love,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “’S Wonderful,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”

Gershwin also wrote the more sophisticated “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), the symphonic tone poem “An American in Paris” (1928), and what Gershwin called a folk opera, “Porgy and Bess” (1935).

With such memorable music as “Summertime” and “I Loves You, Porgy,” it was a surprise to learn that “Porgy and Bess” was a flop when it first opened. Felder explained the musical complexity of the opera, which includes a fugue, a passacaglia, a tone row and the use of atonality, polytonality and polyrhythm.

Felder’s show has had successful runs on Broadway, in London’s West End and in cities across the country. Berkeley is the final venue for George Gershwin Alone. This charming, poignant, but brief (90 minutes, no intermission) glimpse into the life and art of one of America’s most cherished composers is not to be missed. Audience members left the theater smiling and singing.

George Gershwin Alone is playing at Berkeley Rep through June 23.

For information and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep online.

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Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...