With the rain pouring outside and Laguna Canyon Road blocked to traffic a couple of miles away, one might not expect an appreciable turnout at a Laguna Playhouse matinee of what's very nearly a one-show production.
One would be impressed, nay astonished, then, at the packed house that turned out for Hershey Felder's "The Great American Songbook," which bowed in Sunday and will be repeated twice more at the end of the month.
It's all due to Felder's enormous popularity with playhouse audiences, established in 2010 with "George Gershwin Alone," "Monsieur Chopin" and "Beethoven as I Knew Him." He's now an established old friend, and that's how he presents his latest one-man show.
Felder, an enormously talented actor and musician, establishes an up close and personal rapport in this new venture, which spotlights the composers who changed the face of Broadway. Theatergoers are invited to sing along with the great Broadway songs of the 20th century — and might even get the chance for a solo number if they catch the star's attention.
Unlike the previous shows, "Songbook" is an uninterrupted sing-along, with Felder quickly giving the audience the song's next line — although it's doubtful too many people needed the extra help since the songs themselves are classics.
In an interesting but incomplete musical history lesson, Felder pays tribute to the greats of the Broadway composing and lyric writing fraternity — Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and the words-and-music kings Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Apparently time considerations prevent him from finishing up with an advertised salute to the reigning Broadway monarch, Stephen Sondheim.
Among Felder's bag of tricks is an impromptu duet by two unrelated audience members — "Some Enchanted Evening" from "South Pacific." He cancels out the potential artistic risks by having the "singers" lip-sync the words while he warbles both parts.
Occasionally, he'll draw a theatergoer with true vocal ability — as he did Sunday when a lady named Nancy produced a lusty solo from the back of the house.
There are no costumes, no setting apart from a piano and a single parchment backdrop in Felder's latest effort. It's all part of the host's plan to bring singer and audience closer together, which he accomplishes splendidly.
Laguna playgoers won't have to wait too long to catch a Felder performance again. He opens Saturday night with "Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein," which will play through Feb. 6.
And another two weekends of "Monsieur Chopin" are scheduled next month, Feb. 17 to 20 and 24 to 27. Like Old Man River, which he features in his "Songbook," Hershey Felder just keeps rolling along.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Hershey Felder's "Great American Songbook"
WHERE: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
WHEN: Returning Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 8 p.m.
COST: $40 to $70
CALL: (949) 497-2787Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun