God and love. These things means the same for so many people, yet we try to find it in different ways. The idea of love by itself is vast. It can mean anything! From the sweet taste of strawberries in the summer to the person you spend your life with, we love. And we find God through these things, because what could possibly be a better indicator he exists to the believers than love itself? And God can only be seen through the eyes of a lucky few… and the artists. Artists spend their lives looking for the beauty of life, for God. In “Maestro” we follow Leonard Bernstein, one of America’s greatest musicians, on his journey to find God and love through a night of music and conversation with his audience. But what we truly get is an artist on stage looking for the same beauty as he goes through somebody else’s life, yet coming to the same conclusion in front of our very eyes.
Hershey Felder is spellbinding as Leonard Bernstein in this show. His mannerisms, his speaking pattern, the way he commands our attention on stage. He has us looking at him, letting ourselves be conducted through the music of the book he wrote and putting us on a grip that he does not let go for its hour and forty five minute run. It’s his words that sound like Bernstein music, while he simulates what a night with the man himself in concert could have been. We are there to experience Bernstein’s life and Felder’s journey, even if we see one from start to end and the other just a piece. Felder combines his book with Bernstein’s music as well as the classics that inspired the musician, and this creates some of the most spectacular moments in a solo show in recent memory. The moment in which he talks about seeing Dimitri Mitropoulos conduct, losing himself in the moment, had me gone, looking at space, understanding not only what he was seeking but where he had found it. That’s what we call power.
Moments like that weren’t isolated, they were part of the bigger story, which is the individualistic sense of failure on the search for this God. Bernstein’s conclusion of being a failure for never having one big composition is frustrating to the audience as we see him shine, but we don’t need to understand. We understand, but we don’t need to. Each person is the standard bearer of their own bar. If I have one complaint about the story, it’s the introduction of his wife, Felicia Cohn Montealegre, halfway through the show. It slow things down, and for around ten minutes the show felt like it took a step backwards. It is such a huge piece of the puzzle, and since it was presented so late into the production it created a distraction. Luckily, the show picked up again and she became as integral a part of the journey we were witnessing as his father or the people that influenced him.
“Maestro,” directed by Joel Zwick, is just like his title presumes, is a masterclass in theatrical production. The director, like a conductor, manages to make all the right choices to create a painting in which we can just sit and be in awe. While Felder may have done the bulk of the work with his performance and the book, it is in Zwick’s hands that the one-man show was shaped. With the help of his wonderful designers, we were put in a room with a legend and we believed it through sheer theater magic.
“Maestro” is playing at the 59E59 Theaters until October 16. That is ample time for you to go check it out and be mesmerized by a work that found God and love in its stage and was bold enough to invite us in.
Out of 4 stars: