THEATER

A cozy chat with Hershey Felder

The "Irving Berlin" creator and star talks about life, politics, the return of "Willesden Lane," and his New Year's Eve singalong at the Armory

By ALICE HARDESTY

If you’re feeling the holiday blues or post-election anxiety, or you’re depressed by a seemingly irreparable schism in the American population, you should come to Portland Center Stage to see and hear Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin. Come before the show closes on Friday. Or even if you’ve seen it already, come to the big Great American Songbook Singalong on New Year’s Eve. You will, once again, feel the warmth of community. You’ll see the son of Jewish immigrants call up the life of an iconic Jewish immigrant in song, piano music, and storytelling. At times you can sing along, softly or lustily, as have many audiences before you. And you may shed a few tears. But for sure, you’ll leave with a smile and a warm heart.

Hershey Felder in the world premiere production of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” at Geffen Playhouse in 2014. Photo by Eighty Eight Entertainment.

On the recent Winter Solstice I had a warm conversation in a chilly Green Room with Felder, with occasional input from his director, Trevor Hay, and enthusiastic listening from PCS’s Claudie Jean Fisher. We touched on everything from the rigorous schedule of daily performances, to music and humanity, to the current state of nation.

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This filly doesn’t flinch

After the runaway success of 'Asking for It,' Adrienne Truscott's 'One Trick Pony' is a return to her performance-artist roots.

You’ve probably heard this said of zoos: When you think you’re watching the animals, they are also watching you. Watching performance artists can be like that, too—particularly, watching Adrienne Truscott.

In her one-woman show A One Trick Pony, Truscott—who starts off dressed as a bare-buttocked horse and proceeds to admit one of her performance goals is to be present “like a dog”—is certainly the sort of animal who doesn’t mind putting her watchers as well as herself on the spot.

Adrienne Truscott – One Trick Pony

The U.S. premiere of Pony, presented by Boom Arts, was part of Truscott’s gradual and voluntary comedown following a meteoric rise to comedy fame—an odd detour, she admits, for an already seasoned performance artist. Her 2013 creation Asking For It, “a rape about comedy” in which she played a pantsless comedian character telling rape jokes, and won some performing arts prizes before vaulting from fringe festivals onto mainstream comedy stages—pantsless, no less. There, she got a mixed reception, earning raves from the likes of Chris Rock and The Guardian, but balking under a new level of public scrutiny (the kind comedians, not performance artists, typically get) and often feeling the need to defend her performance choices—including showing her “much maligned vagina.”

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‘L’amour de Loin’ & ‘The Place Where You Started’: Love from Afar

Contemporary operas show the consequences of idealizing, or stereotyping, strangers

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear about the premiere of yet another new opera. Much of the action is in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago and Europe, of course, but signs of vitality are springing up even in places like Fort Worth and Long Beach. After decades of relentlessly retro programming, Oregon too shows recent signs of operatic revitalization: Christopher Corbell’s Cult of Orpheus, which this month revived the Portland composer’s original 2015 opera Viva’s Holiday and has a new opera based on Antigone coming next year; Opera Theater Oregon, which co-produced Viva and is bringing Eugene composer Justin Ralls’s Two Yosemites to Portland in June; Eugene Opera’s recent productions of operas by living composers; and even normally stodgy Portland Opera’s upcoming David Lang one-acts.

‘L’Amour de Loin’ is broadcast in select theaters December 21.

Along with Corbell’s re-Viva, this fall has brought two more contemporary operas to Portland, one internationally renowned, created by a pair of Parisian immigrants, and showing in a few Oregon movie theaters this Wednesday, December 21, the other homegrown. Both seem timely given today’s social concerts, showing the consequences of our perennial tendency to view others through the distorted lenses of our own desires — or fears.

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Irving Berlin: For Everyman, by Everyman

In creating himself according to the nation's enthusiasm for his songs, Irving Berlin, the subject of a one-man show at Portland Center Stage, helped to create a national identity

by DAVID SCHIFF

Editor’s note: With “White Christmas” streaming from speakers everywhere, The Shedd’s production of Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun running through this weekend, and Portland Center Stage’s production of Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin continuing through December, we thought it would be an appropriate occasion to re-run one of the definitive articles on the great American composer by another great American composer, as well as one of our great writers about music, Portland’s own David Schiff.

Do pop tunes have an afterlife? A new three-volume scholarly edition of the early songs of Irving Berlin, published for the American Musicological Society, suggests that all music, whether pop or classical, passes from inspiration to dissertation, living on as fodder for musicologists.

Irving Berlin circa 1906.

I recently decided to test Berlin’s suitability for the full scholarly treatment in the privacy of my home. As I began singing and playing through all 190 of these songs, written from 1907 to 1914, I thought I had finally discovered the secret to being the life of the party. The first few songs, for which Berlin wrote the words only, had an irresistible klutzy charm in their rhymes:

Oh Marie, ‘neath the window I’m waiting
Oh, Marie, please don’t be so aggravating . . .

Impatiently I wait for thee here in the moonlight,
Don’t be afraid, my dusky maid, this is a spoonlight . . .
I hit pay dirt with the seventh song, “Sadie Salome (Go Home)”

Don’t do that dance, I tell you Sadie,
That’s not a bus’ness for a lady!
‘Most ev’rybody knows
That I’m your loving Mose,
Oy, oy, oy, oy
Where is your clothes?
You better go and get your dresses,
Ev’ry one’s got the op’ra glasses.
Oy! such a sad disgrace
No one looks in your face;
Sadie Salome, go home.

Mel Brooks could not have undone Richard Strauss any better. I was ready to invite all my friends over.

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A Wonderful Wizard of Oz that favors film fans

Kids will be delighted by NWCT's play that so aptly mimics the movie.

Have you heard? there’s a Wizard of Oz production on right now! The Wizard of Oz is playing through Jan 2 at Northwest Children’s Theater.

“Well, that settles it; we’re off to see The Wizard!” you may immediately proclaim. “Never mind the review.” And I say more power to you. Yes, you may be excused. Go!

Ronni Lee is Dorothy, Clara-Liis Hillier is the witch, and there’s even a little dog, too!

Now, then. Those of us you who are still reading probably fall into two types: extreme Dorothy devotees who demand perfection from their Wizard of Oz productions, and people who could give a rip about The Wizard, but are gamely seeking shows to enjoy with their family over the holidays. And both sets of folks are wondering, “Is it good?” Good news: it’s excellent. And in the best sense of the word, it’s “safe,” faithfully recreating all of the major elements from in the 1939 movie version. This show is almost exactly everything you’d expect. The Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Wizard look, sing and talk just like they do in the movie, Dorothy’s eyes and vowels are every bit as round as Judy Garland’s, Toto is a real live terrier, and so on. This show could almost be called The Wizard of Oz: The Movie, On Stage. And that’s ideal for kids.

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‘La Belle’: a beauty of a Beauty

Imago's bold and charming "La Belle: Lost in the Automaton" retells the age-old "Beauty and the Beast" as a steampunk vaudeville (with puppets)

The tale, with its many themes and variations, is hundreds of years old, at least. A woman, an embodiment of purity and innocence, is forced into the company of a frightening Other, something primal, whether animal or spirit, something dark and debased. Yet there is recognition and love, trial and transformation. Hidden natures are revealed. Opposites balance and resolve.

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve crystallized it in 1740 as La Belle et la Bête. It may be best known by many from Jean Cocteau’s luminous, numinous 1946 film of that same name.  To many more, its image is fixed as a Disney product, 1991’s animated mass-market musical Beauty and the Beast.

Jim Vadala and Justine Davis: the beast and the beauty aboard ship. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Perhaps future generations, though, will think of the story and imagine not forests and castles but the grimy engine room of a coal-powered steamship. Their memories will be filled not with Disney’s storybook colors or Cocteau’s poetic cinematic effects but with a more immediate kind of artistic magic: puppets and automatons and actors on a stage.

They’ll think of Imago.

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¡Felices Fiestas! con Milagro

Milagro Theatre pulls out the stops on Sunday for its 14th annual free holiday celebration

On Sunday, Milagro Theatre will celebrate one of the city’s most congenial holiday gatherings, its 14th annual Posada Milagro, an all-ages immersive experience of Latin American traditions for La Navidad.

Posada Milagro, a community celebration of the season. Milagro Theatre photo

The “Miracle Inn” portrays the journey or Pastorela of Mary and Joseph as they search for shelter and await the birth of baby Jesus. Posada Milagro will include two performances of the Pastorela, at 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Papalotl Ballet, Portland’s own multigenerational ballet folklorico de Mexico, will perform its whirling and toe-tapping repertoire of dance, backed by music from Cosecha Mestiza.

After each performance there’ll be a chance to take a swing at a piñata. Latinx Improv will entertain the crowd with their comic storytelling. The afternoon will include hands-on activites, too: adults and children have five handicrafts to choose from, including ornament-making.

Traditional tamales and hot chocolate will be available to buy from Tortillería y Tienda de Leon. Even better, you can bring a donation for the Oregon Food Bank and help support families in our community.

This year’s Posada will feature a photo booth, too. Put on your best or ugliest Christmas sweater to get the picture done right!

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Admission to Posada Milagro is free. However, the Pastorela is limited to ticket-holders only. Free tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first served basis at the theater beginning at 1 p.m. on the day of the event. For one day only, this family-friendly event is on Sunday, December 18th from 1 PM to 5 p.m. at El Centro Milagro, 537 S.E. Stark St., Portland.

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