Even people who claim not to like classical music know and love Tchaikovsky’s melodies. Whether it’s The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The 1812 Overture or his music set to lyrics in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, everyone knows some of Tchaikovsky’s work. His music almost drips with emotion in a way that few others can match. The music is as potent and rich today as when he was composing in 19th century Russia; perhaps even more so when it is used to guide Bay Area audiences through his life story.
Hershey Felder’s Our Great Tchaikovsky is a feast for the eyes and the ears. The set is gorgeous, the music is amazing and Felder’s performance is outstanding. The thoughtful show addresses modern issues while guiding the audience through Tchaikovsky’s life and work.
To some extent, knowing the music is knowing the man; but the life of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is so much more. In his newest one-man show, Hershey Felder returns to the stage as the composer, insightfully telling Tchaikovsky’s life story while performing some of his best pieces.
Tchaikovsky’s life was full of pain. From losing his mother at a young age to having to hide part of himself as a homosexual man, Tchaikovsky suffered greatly during his too-short life. Yet, in this show, Felder shows the audience how he turned the pain and the joy in his life into the beautiful music that we still enjoy today.
The show is visually beautiful as well. Felder, who also did the scenic design, perfectly mixed tangible Easter European objects in the foreground with projections creating an ever-changing background. Sitting center stage is the all-important grand piano where Felder spends most of the show’s hour and a half speaking in an impeccable Russian accent and breathing life into one of Russia’s greatest musicians.
“To me, music doesn’t have a nationality. To me, music is simply human.” - Our Great Tchaikovsky
At various points throughout the play, Felder breaks from character and explains certain things to the audience. Some are things that Tchaikovsky didn’t know during his lifetime, but mostly it’s to explain Russia’s current outlook on Tchaikovsky, as a musician and a man. Despite Russian officials confirming Tchaikovsky’s importance to the country and his sexual orientation, there are still laws outlawing homosexual expression. You might think that these modern asides would take away from the immersion of the show, but instead they add analysis and context to the composer’s perspective.
The show is nearly perfect. There are two background projections that take away from the experience—one party scene early on that seemed overly decadent for what was described and images that seemed too modern used while Felder plays Swan Lake. That stated, for the most part, the images compliment the performance perfectly, adding a sense of place to Felder’s words and music.
TheatreWorks is hosting Hershey Felder’s Our Great Tchaikovsky at The Mountain View Center for Performing Arts from January 10 to February 11, 2018. The show runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets run $45 - $105.
Photos Courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents