Hershey Felder is working backwards through his projected trio of plays about composers, having began with the finale of “George Gershwin Alone” which toured the world and was in town for almost a year, was broadcast nationally and released as a double CD on the new WFMT label before Felder decided to offer weeks of previews and now open the second work in the trilogy, “Monsieur Chopin,” in Chicago as well. Using the same format as the Gershwin show where Felder tells stories and plays the piano throughout the evening as the composer, this Felder admirer found himself wanting to go back and watch the old Cornel Wilde Chopin movie “A Song to Remember” after a troubled opening that indicated that “M. Chopin” is a work-in-progress a long way from hitting its mark. To begin with, the costumed, blond-wig wearing Felder speaks in a heavy supposedly Polish accent all evening, a distracting and unnecessary element since the composer would be speaking in unaccented Polish or French in any case. And one-liners are hard to come by when you died at 39 essentially of a broken heart, though Felder does his best to keep them coming. Most of the show speculatively connects tragic events in Chopin’s life with particular pieces that supposedly connect with them rather than having Chopin discuss what we would really like him to address: the music itself. The glory of the Gershwin show was the brilliant way that the audience received keen insights into why and how Gershwin wrote what he did, and why it was different from the musical world around him. How useful it would be, for instance, to have Felder demonstrate the more flamboyant Liszt style of piano playing next to Chopin’s, rather then merely describe it. The best part of the show was when Felder came out of the character at the encore and discussed while demonstrating Chopin’s unique style of improvisation. An evening of that kind of stuff could make this work. (Dennis Polkow)
Through Dec. 4 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted; (312)988-9000.