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Laguna Beach is Southern California's premier seaside destination, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. A year-round retreat for art lovers, nature enthusiasts and beach goers, Laguna Beach features seven miles of soft sand and surf.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The World’s Musical Rabbi

Hershey Felder in Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein

Immediately when entering the theater, I knew that this was going to be a special show. What I saw was an elegantly stripped-down set; a black baby grand piano, two large stage lights and an old film camera against a backdrop of draped material resembling a torn piece of sheet music. Against the sheet music, a black and white film was projected of Leonard Bernstein speaking about music …Slowly the house lights are dimmed and before I realize, Hershey Felder, playing Leonard Bernstein, glides through the audience ascending to the stage. He turns and you SEE Leonard Bernstein.

We as the audience were immediately taken into the world of Bernstein. Learning of his strict and traditional Jewish upbringing. How at three he tickled the keys of a piano and immediately fell into “idol worship.” Against his Father’s wishes, he pursued music by paying for his own piano lessons where he quickly surpassed the abilities of his teacher and moved onto studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, and then at Harvard. Along with stories, we were also treated to beautiful music played and sung by Felder.  Being able to hear how great composers like Beethoven influenced Bernstein, brought a deeper understanding of the man. Or the effect that Gershwin had on him and his desire to become the next great American composer. Felder also showed us what conducting meant to him and how the music moved him. All of this was felt through the music more than through the actual words of the story.

Felder was able to weave this story of Bernstein through the music that identified and influenced who he was as a man; father, lover, conductor, composer and teacher. I, as a young 30-something learned a thing or two about Bernstein beyond the “Westside Story” melodies that made him a familiar name to me. I saw that he was a man that asks the questions we all do, “Where do I fit in?” “In this continuum of life and song, where will my mark land?” For Bernstein, he literally became the “world’s musical Rabbi.” His true and pure love of music has influenced generations and will no doubt continue to do so.

Be sure to see this play at The Laguna Playhouse now through February 6. For tickets, call 949-497-2787 x1 or

By Anne-Marie S.

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