`Gershwin Alone’

Corrections or additions?

These reviews by Simon Saltzman were prepared for the July 11,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In New York

One of the more pleasant surprises of the season was

the arrival of "Stones in His Pockets," an unabashedly

intimate

and sentimental Irish comedy that was lauded both in its homeland

and in London where it continues to play after more than a year. Marie

Jones’s cleverly amusing take on the effects of a Hollywood film crew

has on the residents of a small Irish coastal village is a welcome

addition to the theater offerings. The play is notable for the way

that all its 15 characters are performed by two accomplished and

personable

actors — Conleth Hill and Sean Campion. The duo’s cheerful and

exuberant performances meet the demands of the mockingly caricatured

Hollywood personages and the more compassionately personified Irish

locals. Although Hill and Campion are principally seen in the roles

of Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn, respectively, hired extras in a

period romance, they give equal time to transforming themselves into

many others.

Jake, who has just returned home after a less than successful attempt

to jump-start his dream of a showbiz career in New York, catches the

eye and the ear (because his accent is so alluring) of Caroline

Giovanni,

Hollywood’s sexy but skillfully stupid, superstar. Charlie, who hopes

to get someone to read his screenplay, becomes both the seductive

Caroline, replete with breathy pianissimos and languid body language,

and her equally funny brawny bodyguard. A myriad of recognizable types

from the self-absorbed director to the frenetic production assistant

to the odd assortment of extras are brought to life with a simple

turn of the head or spin on a heel.

Although the plot, based on Jones’s acting experiences in films shot

in Ireland, doesn’t aspire to say anything we don’t already know about

the exploitation of the "little people" by condescending

Hollywood

invaders, there is a touch of poignancy given to a tragic subplot.

A drug-addicted young man, who has been cast as an extra, commits

suicide when he is fired for not being reliable. Under the cool

direction

of Ian McElhinney, "Stones in his Pockets" is the perfect

summer anecdote to many over-stuffed, over-heated extravaganzas. Three

stars. You won’t feel cheated.

— Simon Saltzman

Stones in His Pockets , Golden Theater, 252 West 45th

Street,

New York. Tickets $30 to $65, Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or

212-239-6200.

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`Gershwin Alone’

There is no American-born composer who has contributed

more immortal music to the great American songbook and to the American

musical theater than has George Gershwin. Adding to his legacy of

individual song hits, the concert pieces "Rhapsody in Blue,"

"Concerto in F," "American in Paris," among others,

and the grand folk opera "Porgy and Bess," Gershwin richly

deserves all the accolades and tributes he so often gets.

Unfortunately,

the tribute being paid by Hershey Felder in the one-person

narrative-driven

show "George Gershwin Alone" does little to reveal either

the man or his music. The text, presumably based on biographical

material

has some of the facts blatantly wrong such as the story on how

"Swanee,"

became the composer’s first hit. The truth is that Al Jolson, who

was appearing on Broadway, heard Gershwin’s tune sung in a stage show

at the Capitol Theater. He liked it and asked to sing it in his show.

Felder, who, for whatever it is worth, bears a slight resemblance

to Gershwin, tells it differently: that it was heard first at a swank

penthouse party. Wrong! Is this important? Not really. However, a

show that purports to inform as well as entertain should get the facts

right. But I will give Felder credit for pointing an accurate finger

at Henry Ford, a fanatical anti-Semite, who blamed the Jewish Gershwin

for corrupting society with his jazz. Too bad that Felder’s other

nine fingers couldn’t bring more sensitivity to the music that he

banged out rather relentlessly with more fury than finesse.

Although seated formally at the grand piano in Yael Pardess’

commemorating

living room setting, Felder tries to invoke the spirit of Gershwin.

Certainly Felder’s grating, too often off-key, singing of

"Embraceable

You," "Someone to Watch Over Me," among others, is enough

to make Gershwin’s spirit come back to haunt his pretentiously

misguided

interpreter. Felder’s murderously protracted rendering of "Bess,

You is My Woman" (from "Porgy and Bess") is downright

painful. Director Joel Zwick could be accused of aiding and abetting

Felder, in his 90 minutes of hammering away on a very fine instrument.

A number of people at the performance I attended thought he was quite

good and gave him an ovation. One star. Don’t blame us!

— Simon Saltzman

George Gershwin Alone , Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44

Street, New York. $65. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Extended to September 2.


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