On Monday June 4th almost 1,500 theater goers joined New York’s First Mother, Matilda Cuomo, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, Broadway regulars, Dame Hellen Mirren, Geraldine Hughes, Tyne Daly and Joel Zwick and family members of Irving Berlin to attend the New York premiere of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin,” at Town Hall in Manhattan.
Canadian actor Hershey Felder put on a one man show presenting the life and music of arguably the greatest Jewish songwriter of all time, Irving Berlin. Felder began Berlin’s story at the age of five when Berlin left Russia with his family, following a pogrom where he witnessed his village being burnt to the ground forcing his family to leave Russia, very much like what we have been accustomed to in the Broadway production “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Irving Berlin, an Orthodox Jew, was born, Israel Isadore Baline in 1888 in Tyumen, part of the Russian Empire. His family came to New York when Irving was only five years old, and he was credited with having written his first song at nine, “Marie From Sunny Italy,” in 1907. Berlin lived to be 101(died September 22, 1989) in New York City.
Irving Berlin was a devout Orthodox Jew and married twice outside his faith. In spite of that he continued to follow Judaism while his wife followed her own faith.
During his lifetime ( 60-year career) he wrote more than 1,500 songs many becoming top hits around the world. Some of his songs included Alexander’s Ragtime Band (his first international hit) in1911.
He wrote the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films with eight Academy Award nominations to his credit. Irving Berlin’s hit parade included 10 #1 hits and 232 top-ten hits. Some Irving Berlin’s most memorable songs were performed by Hershey Felder this Town Hall premiere, including, “Alexander’s Rag Time Band,” “Always,” Blue Skies,” “G-d Bless America,” “Puttin on the Ritz,” “there’s No Business Like Show Business,” and White Christmas.” The latter was written as a gift to the troops fighting in World War II thinking about how lonely they must be on Christmas so far from home.
Felder was amazing. He often called on the audience to sing along with him to the iconic tunes that have become part of the fabric of the Great American Songbook.
“I am thrilled to return to Town Hall,” said Felder, “a stage replete with history, to perform the role of Irving Berlin on the same stage where I last brought Maestro Leonard Bernstein to life. TO be able to create the character of Irving Berlin, America’s most beloved composer, in his home town, around the corner from his beloved Music Box Theater, in a music story that reminds us all of this incredible country, and the remarkable people who built it, is truly an honor.”
Following his performance as Irving Berlin Hershey Felder joined family members of Irving Berlin and a host of actors and theater press for a reception at Sardi’s. Irving Berlin’s daughters Elizabeth Peters, Linda Louise Emmet, Mary Ellin Berlin Barret were joined by Berlin’s grandson Edward Emmet, granddaughter Katherine Swett and great grandson William Swett to meet and greet the star of the show Hershey Felder and his lovely wife, Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada.
Felder will next perform as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro from August 31 – October 16 at 59E59.
Joyce Vetere Milowski and Dan Miller