Reporter’s Notebook: Hershey Felder, S.D. Rep plan ambitious tribute to Gershwin

Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Italy
Actor/playwright Hershey Felder will livestream his George Gershwin solo show in September from the historic Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Italy.
(Courtesy photo)

In his third fundraising show for the Rep and 17 other theaters worldwide, Felder to perform solo at historic theater

In a fundraiser for San Diego Repertory Theatre and 17 other theaters worldwide, actor/playwright/pianist Hershey Felder has announced plans for a third livestream show from Italy.

On Sept. 13, he will present his “George Gershwin Alone” solo play with music from one of the world’s oldest theaters, Teatro della Pergola in Florence.

Since the pandemic began, Felder has been forced to cancel all of his engagements, including a scheduled May run of his Claude Debussy play, “A Paris Love Story,” at the Rep. Since then, he has launched an international live-casting production company at his home in the Tuscan hills outside Florence.

The first two shows were presented at Felder’s home. But for the Gershwin show, which hasn’t been seen in San Diego since 2011, he wanted to explore a new physical environment. Because the play is set in the theatrical afterlife — immediately after Gershwin’s untimely death at age 38 from a brain tumor in 1937 — Felder said he wanted a setting that represented this musical limbo between the composer’s artistic life and whatever lies beyond.

“George Gershwin Alone” was the first show Felder performed in San Diego at the Old Globe in 2008. He has performed it more than 3,000 times over the past 20 years. In the musical biography, Gershwin grapples with questions about his talent, his life choices and whether he appropriated elements of the jazz and gospel music of Black Americans.

“It struck me that putting a chair and a desk in my garage or living room just wouldn’t do it,” Felder said in an email. “It also struck me that the place he would be in limbo would be in a concert hall or music hall or theater, with no one else there.”

Through a friend in Florence, Felder met with the director of Teatro Della Pergola, which until the pandemic had been in continuous operation since its construction in 1657. The Teatro’s leader invited Felder to rehearse and perform there and the Teatro will be one of the 18 presenting and beneficiary partner theaters for the show.

Felder said that he and his production crew will livestream from the empty theater, where he will perform both onstage, backstage and other locations.

Tickets are $55 per household and can be ordered through the Rep at sdrep.org.

La Jolla Playhouse-born "The Jersey Boys."
The late Howell Binkley won a Tony Award in 2006 for his lighting design of La Jolla Playhouse-born “The Jersey Boys.” Binkley died on Aug. 14.
(Courtesy photo)

Playhouse’s Ashley mourns famed lighting designer

Howell Binkley, a Tony Award-winning lighting designer whose work was seen regularly onstage at the La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe, passed away Aug. 14 in North Carolina after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 64.

Christopher Ashley, the Playhouse’s artistic director, called Binkley “one of the best men I know” in a phone interview on Tuesday. The men first worked together on a Stephen Sondheim festival in the early 2000s and went on to collaborate on dozens of shows over the past 20 years.

“He was one of the most extraordinary artists of light. just a beautiful storyteller. He lit like a cinematographer creates a film. He was the lens the audience watched the story through,” Ashley said. “As a collaborator, he was quiet and always excited by the possibility of hte moment and the new idea.”

Among Binkley’s nearly two dozen credits at the Playhouse are “Jersey Boys,” for which he won his first Tony Award in 2006, “Come From Away,” “Memphis,” “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” “Escape to Margaritaville,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and many more. At the Old Globe, he designed “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “Allegiance” and “The Full Monty.” But Binkley is most famous for his Tony-winning lighting design of the 2015 musical “Hamilton.”

Binkley also was the recipient of two Craig Noel Awards from the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle for his lighting design of the Playhouse shows “Hollywood” in 2016 and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in 2014.

Playhouse unveils two more WOW shows

The La Jolla Playhouse has announced two more shows for its 2020 all-digital Without Walls Festival.

L.A.-based playwright Marike Splint has been commissioned to write “You are Here: A Homebound Travelogue,” where she’ll use interactive Zoom technology and Google Earth geo-mapping techniques to tell her family’s international immigration story, as well as to highlight humanity’s loss of personal connection as the result of the pandemic. Show dates have not been announced but it will begin live-streaming in September.

Also, San Diego’s Animal Cracker Conspiracy puppetry company has been commissioned to produce “The Society of Wonder,” a series of six videos that tell a whimsical story about five characters who receive signs from a cyborg in their quest to rebuild society after a villainous corporation brought the world to the brink of collapse. Episodes will be rolled out for streaming September through December.

Meanwhile, streaming dates have been announced for San Diego playwright David Israel Reynoso’s previously announced “Portaleza” interactive show. It will be available Sept. 8 through Oct. 4.

—Pam Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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