Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes

Hershey Felder
Photo Courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents
I was about 3 years old when I first heard an Irving Berlin song, and by the time I was 10 I knew many of his most popular songs. The sold-out audience of predominantly 50-plus year-olds at a recent performance of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin were held spellbound (when not being asked to sing-along), learning about Berlin's fascinating life that served as inspiration for so much of his songbook. The production at Seattle Repertory Theatre is the long overdue Seattle debut of pianist, actor, playwright, composer, producer, and director Hershey Felder.

The ultimate rags to riches tale is related as Felder's grumpy old retired Berlin gives way to a younger, let's say middle-aged version who relates the story of Berlin's family—survivors of a fierce pogrom against Jews in Russia—and their settling in New York. Going from singing waiter to the 20th century's preeminent pop songwriter (with over 1500 songs to his credit), Berlin's popular work would be more than enough to fill a show, but touching on the milestones in his life (Berlin's family and patriotism being the recurring themes) is what really makes this show extra special.

From "Always" to "Alexander's Ragtime Band" to "Heat Wave" to "White Christmas," the man's songs are given their due, and you may be surprised as some are referenced in about 16 bars, showcased in film clips, or entirely omitted. But the show comes in at a tight intermissionless 1 hour and 45 minutes and that feels perfect. Felder has a good range, and on Berlin's bleakest song, "Suppertime," stirs the emotional pot. His encore number is a hilarious politically incorrect as can be number, and must be heard to be believed.

"God Bless America," Berlin's greatest patriotic song, was popularized in vocalist Kate Smith's rendition, and Celine Dion made it a hit again with a recording released as a response to 9/11. Despite the fact that many post-baby boomer era audience members have not been exposed to the Berlin library, god bless Hershey Felder for this gift of music, humor, heart and soul. Hurry back to Seattle, Mr. F.

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, through March 17th, 2018, with a special Felder songbook sing-along show on the 18th, at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St, Seattle WA. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at