Hershey Felder wows in “Abe Lincoln’s Piano,” his world-premiere tour-de-force of piano virtuosity mixed with compelling and witty storytelling, currently onstage at the Geffen Playhouse.
Felder certainly knows his way around Americana music. His early childhood ivory ticklings of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” led to later research on Gershwin (which inspired the creation of his “George Gershwin Alone” musical play) and a chance encounter with Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, which became the genesis of this new play’s entertaining, enlightening historical recount of the last moments of Lincoln’s life at the Ford Theater, featuring American hymns and classics.
Partly told from the perspective of the attending physician who was there that fateful April 14, 1865, we learn how the evening unfolded with Felder acting out all the various characters present: the physician, Mrs. Lincoln, the actress of the evening’s performance, the president’s cabinet.
Moods and urgency receive great accentuation with Felder’s piano playing and singing. Technical elements (lighting by Christopher Rynne, sound by Erik Carstensen) complement the changing seriousness, levity and pending inevitability. Trevor Hay directs this seamless 90-minute one-act in a steady flow of heightened punctuations for maximum effect.
Felder and Hay effectively designed the set as the Ford Theater’s velvet-curtained proscenium. Stephen Foster’s classic tunes (“Old Kentucky Home,” “Beautiful Dreamer”) take on a whole new meaning via Felder’s loving interpretations.
Though there were moments deserving of applause, Felder never paused long enough for acknowledgement or interruption. Not until after his last piano chord and lights out did he accept his overdue, much deserved adulation.
—Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA
Performances continue through Jan. 13 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., LA 90024. Show times are Mondays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. For tickets, visit http://www.geffenplayhouse.com or call (310) 208-5454.