Hershey Felder brings his eighth one-man historical play-with-music to London, following a successful US tour.
Felder’s take on Tchaikovsky is scholarly and nuanced, explaining from the start Tchaikovsky’s own admission that he was gay, and effectively viewing the twists and turns of Tchaikovsky’s life and output in relation to it. Some may find the overanalysis of Tchaikovsky’s sexuality reductive when appraising the composer, but Felder’s script shows us time and time again how Tchaikovsky’s hand was forced by others’ prejudice and his self-loathing.
As an actor, Felder offers a well-layered characterisation; hang-dog but passionate, introverted but bon viveur. Tchaikovsky’s music also receives meticulous attention, with source material carefully edited and contextualised, and some medleys, often reshaped to suit Felder’s purpose and style. Perhaps the most impressive of all is Felder’s remarkable ability to deliver a spoken monologue while simultaneously playing such demanding music. Though there is a tendency towards noisy and imprecise playing, Felder has a magical lightness of touch in the quieter moments.
Felder frames the show by speaking to the audience as himself, about his own dilemma of having been invited to perform this show in Russia, and how he managed to create this new role. This repeated focus on himself as a performer and social commentator, along with his name above the title, can have the effect of diminishing Tchaikovsky’s role in the piece, or even putting these two artists on an equal footing with each other. After 22 years, Hershey Felder is an old hand at creating his unique brand of show, and this one was met with the immediate standing ovation deserved of such an accomplished creator and performer.