Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Actor Hershey Felder Brings Irving Berlin To Life At La Jolla Playhouse

Hershey Felder in "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin" in this undated photo.
La Jolla Playhouse
Hershey Felder in "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin" in this undated photo.
Actor Hershey Felder Brings Irving Berlin To Life At La Jolla Playhouse
Hershey Felder Brings Irving Berlin To Life At La Jolla Playhouse GUEST:Hershey Felder, creator and performer, "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin"

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I Maureen Cavanaugh. The hopes, fears, love, longing to be traced through his music. No one stole -- told American spirit and hearts better than Irving Berlin. Starting this week the genius of Irving Berlin will be celebrated at the La Jolla Playhouse as actor, singer, her she felt her brings Irving Berlin to life with music. Her she joins us now. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. Can you service up with something from the show. Of course. Given the time of year which is perfect for the sun outside. The sun is shining the grass is green, the origin paltry slaying. There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills, LA. Or in the whole California. But it's December 24, and I'm longing to be up north. I know everyone who's listening right away just use these courts. Including Maureen. I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know, where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow. You see nobody really knows why this song was written. It sounds like a tingle almost. It was written with snow in mind. Notable impact. Two things. Forgivable in the play but it will get to the listening audience. That is just a few years after Irving Berlin got married, it is what's second child named Irving Berlin Junior on December 21, 1928 and they found their little boy passed away in his sleep that night. Every single Christmas morning the two of them would give presents to their children and disappear to the end, he would visit their little boy. Nobody knows that that was that was written about them for. It made its first appearance really in Baycrest be sitting in the film and "Holiday Inn". The country was at war. It became the theme, and then for all the soldiers listening to this over the radio desperate to come home. It is relevant in terms of today. He really took the sounds of an entire nation, the feelings of an entire nation and put them into a song. Every tensing with the audience, I think about what is today, what is overseas, the world is dealing with. That's what I heard. I had heard white Christmas was written for the soldiers written for the war. Know it was written earlier 10 years after his little boy passed in 1938. What are the things we should learn about Irving Berlin. Everyone else's music, they do not know him. The generosity. Here is another some. There's so much you learn the show. But this is a taste Contino this course, while the -- do you know this course? While the store clouds gather, we swear allegiance to our land. Let us all be grateful for land so fair as we raise our voices and a solemn prayer. You are shaking your head. This song never made a penny for the balloons, their heirs or anyone. This was dedicated to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America in perpetuity. Every time you to print the song song, then Berlin start getting money. It all goes to charity. This was written in 1918 for the first world war, but his musical Secretary Saddam it's not really designed need to get rid of the song. It's too patriotic, everyone stunned that. And he put away for casement to sing for Armistice Day. The story which a molecular weight what happens afterward is quite remarkable. -- The story which is miraculous what happens afterwards is remarkable. How do you know Irving Berlin? How did you find Irving Berlin to bring to light? Is really interesting. I didn't want to do the show. More of the show up on, they people that brought up wanted to Irving Berlin for a long time. I didn't think I'd have anything to say. And gentlemen told me a story about him which is actually a dirty story. He cursed out all kind of things. He cursed out competes, you want to do there's no business like show business for the Oscars. He called of Irving Berlin was 100 at that time and asked permission. Berlin S -- asked him you want to? He said jam. He told him no. He said with storage you will be told that this man. I went digging. I looked at the people who knew him, and when I came to the attention of his daughters. We became best friend's. They are kind generous giving people. Is not things that are unknown or complicated. It is a real. They clearly sent to me, they were distinct, there is never or was never any sense of his father that he was opposed or in trying to sell songs. He believed America gave him everything, and immigrant boy who came from Russia and had his village burned. America gave him everything and he felt he owed it to the country. He believed it. Anybody who tried or tries to make negative of that, it is not true. Irving Berlin is related so closely with Tim had Ally -- tin pan alley. Where people with single-handed piano and crank out the tunes. They became the American songbook. Holiday work? Did he like to? He was a very serious worker. Has worked place at night. He was a bit of an insomniac. He had difficulty working during the day. He worked all hours of the night he was a very serious worker and gracious reader. Is education came from reading. He was infinitely curious. He learned about anything and everything and put that into his work late at night. He worked very late at night and was highly disciplined. He was able to crank out to when they were needed. He had that magical thing no one can understand. When I started to look into his songs and understand them, a 1500 of his songs 90% of them are great. The others are great just not as great. Things he investigated, you would have to be unbelievably schooled musician. He had a perfect here. I came from being a snob about it too. Clearly understanding, he was an amazing artist. He directed all the harmonies. He did not given to a Rangers. The Richardson next to them. You -- arranger sat next to him. The part that was business was promoted to singing later, that was a fun thing to do. I think is physical understanding went. The. -- Musical understanding went very deep. He does a counterpoint that musician schools would do as naturally as he does. He was, like most of where it came from the air. He would transcribe it using his voice. They would notate as secretaries, when it came to Gershwin, Gershwin went to work for him. Gershon -- Gershwin was born in 1898. He would work to arrange for him. He would do this in his own style and arrangement, and Irving Berlin with a wonderful, Tom. Go find a job far from me. What Irving Berlin managed to do was captured the heart and soul of America very cleverly. If you look at the lyrics they are very direct, very sustained, and very poetic. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin starts tomorrow night at the La Jolla Playhouse. I was wondering if you could play a little bit more for us. Did you find yourself having a favorite Irving Berlin to? It's hard, which of your children to love more. There's something that always touches me and mission of the audience call the ones they know are familiar with, there is one that there is something about it because it was written yesterday. It was written when his mother died. [ Singing and Playing Piano ] On is the romance that was so define and cannot be manned did -- amended. You must go your way, and I must remind, but now that the Marines have ended. What will I do when you are far away, and I I am alone, which will I do? What will I do when I am wondering who is kissing you? What will I do? What will I do with just a photograph to turn my troubles to? When I'm alone with only dreams of you that won't come true, what will I do? As Irving said Dan spans all over the country picked it up. I would just stay safe and my songs. [ Singing and Playing Piano ] Do you remember a night filled with glass? Your lips and my lips are tied with a kiss, a kiss with an unhappy ending. [ Piano ] What will I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to? When I'm alone I only dream of you. That won't come true, what will I do? Beautiful. Thank you. I can't believe it. That is my favorite Irving Berlin song to. There is something that reflects such an honest emotion. We are just about out of time again. "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin" begins tomorrow night runs through January 3 at the the La Jolla Playhouse. I can't take you enough. That has been beautiful and a wonderful holiday treat. Thank you for helping me.

The sounds of the holidays take center stage as actor Hershey Felder channels Irving Berlin in his new one-man show, "Composers Sonata," starting Wednesday at the La Jolla Playhouse.

In the show, Felder embodies the late Russian-American songwriter, telling his story through singing, acting and playing many of Berlin's most beloved tunes.

Berlin, who wrote roughly 1,500 songs during his career, published his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy," in 1907. He died in 1989.

“He had that magical thing that nobody can explain,” Felder told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday. “He was America’s Mozart.”

Felder said Berlin had a natural ability for tunes and harmony. Using this talent, he captured “the heart and soul of America,” Felder said.

Felder has tackled Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Gershwin and Bernstein in similar fashion, but Berlin has a special relevance this time of year. One of his songs, "White Christmas,” is a prominent part of Felder's show. Bing Crosby made it famous and featured it in the 1942 film "Holiday Inn.”

Contrary to popular belief that the song was written for World War II service members, Felder said Berlin wrote the song in honor of his son, who died on Dec. 25, 1938. The song later became a theme for soldiers.

“There’s so much you’ll learn in this show,” Felder said.

"Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin" runs from Dec. 16 through Jan. 3 at the La Jolla Playhouse at 2910 La Jolla Village Drive.