I can’t sing a lick, as any of my friends who have heard me around the piano at Christmas can tell you. But that didn’t deter me from lending my voice to a spirited and at times quite moving sing-along at the Asolo Rep on Sunday night.
Our accompanist and chorus leader was Hershey Felder, the star of the George Gershwin Alone one-man show now running at the Asolo. Because the reaction to that show (which concludes with a sing-along) has been so strong, the Asolo added a one-time only performance of Felder’s The American Songbook.
Felder sat down at the piano and led the sold-out audience in a two-hour celebration of such American icons as Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Rodgers and Hammerstein. In addition to being a talented singer and pianist, the Canadian-born Felder is a marvelous raconteur. Between songs, he told funny and poignant stories about the various composers, and placed their work in a larger context.
He noted, for example, that Berlin wrote his songs for the average Americans he held in high regard, and that he “captured the essence of America with the most simple and direct poetry and music.” Fittingly on this Memorial Day weekend, the Berlin section of the evening included a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”
We didn’t get songbooks when we entered, and no lyrics were flashed above the stage. But this audience, being of a certain age, had no trouble remembering the words to such classics as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,’” “The Sound of Music,” “Old Man River” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” And Felder would often shout out the words to the next line, just in case.
Felder wears a wig in his Gershwin show, but this evening he appeared as himself, complete with shoulder-length black hair. The son of European immigrants, he noted with a grin that, “Being Jewish, I was brought up to believe I was a genius.”
At times during the concert, he took on the role of the demanding music teacher, chiding us for missing the beat or coming in too soon. Once, to enormous laughter, he told the audience, “I want you to sound a little more gentile.” He shook his head in mock annoyance when some people started clapping rhythmically at another point. “No clapping,” he said. “We’re not at a bar mitzvah.”
But he was also a cheerleader, encouraging us to sing louder and with more feeling. And when he’d hear a particularly strong voice rising above the rest, he’d call upon those audience members to stand for solos.
A teacher named Curt really wowed the crowd when he sang the tongue-twisting passages from “Nothing Like A Dame”: “We got nothing to put on a clean white suit for/What we need is what there ain’t no substitute for.”
Felder and his wife (who happens to be Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada and a frequent guest on Bill Maher’s Real Time) live in Paris. He said he and other expatriates often gather in a bistro to sing classic show tunes like the ones in this concert. He said he can detect looks of envy on the faces of the French who observe them, “because their popular music doesn’t express the hope, doesn’t have the heart, that these songs do.”
Indeed, I had shed a couple of tears by the time the concert ended with a lovely rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Even for an off-key guy like me, this was a warm and rich experience I’ll never forget.
Is there a better crossroads in town than the intersection of Palm Avenue and Main Street? With the widened sidewalks filled with outdoor tables and comfy sofas and couches, Café Epicure and Café Palm are attracting big crowds who enjoy al fresco dining.
At dusk on Saturday, my dog Capone and I sat outside under a canopy of bougainvillea at Café Palm, enjoying a welcome breeze and watching the interesting parade of people go by.
At the next table was Georgia Court, the owner of the wonderful new Bookstore1Sarasota down the street. She invited me to join her party, and mentioned they’d just come from seeing Laughing Matters at Florida Studio Theatre. Well, wouldn’t you know, a few minutes later the cast of the show walked by, and Court and her friends started applauding and telling the actors how much they’d enjoyed the performances.
The corner should really be hopping for the next few weekends, when Sarasota Music Festival concerts are scheduled for the Sarasota Opera House.