Hershey Felder stars in one-man play "Our Great Tchaikovsky"

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Actor/musician Hershey Felder stars in "Our Great Tchaikovsky," which is playing at the Steppenwolf Theater until May 13. (WLS)

"Our Great Tchaikovsky," a one-man play written by and starring Hershey Felder, made its Midwest debut at the Steppenwolf Theater.

Felder, an actor, writer, musician and historian, is in a category of his own.

"Our Great Tchaikovsky" is a unique play that is the latest in a string of solo productions that Felder has written, researched and performed.

Returning to Chicago has been a homecoming of sorts for Felder.

"Now, I'm coming home to Chicago because I've always considered this my theatrical home, it's the city where I've spent the most time on the stage of all the cities," Felder said.

Felder was born in Montreal, but spent most of his time in Europe and the U.S. He began playing piano at age 6 and it took many years and a leap of faith to create his first solo musical biography.

"I knew I was a storyteller from the very beginning," he said. "I was a pianist, trained pianist, composer, conductor and I was theatrically minded and theatrically trained, but they were two separate things. And I thought, 'What if you break that mold?'"

"George Gershwin Alone" was Felder's first "solo play with music," opening to critical acclaim nearly 20 years ago. Since then, he's covered Chopin, Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Franz Liszt, Irving Berlin and now, Tchaikovsky. Months of research go into creating these productions.

"I always thought from the very beginning it was important to tell their real story," Felder said. "You have to look at the music for real, you can't pretend, you have to study it, you have to know it, you have to make very careful choices. We decided early on we were not going to use secondary sources, they were either going to be from a first-hand observation or from the individual themselves."

On the set, you'll see reproductions of Tchaikovsky's letters, music and other belongings giving insight to both his brilliance and suffering.

"Tchaikovsky is human too, he's terrified of being found out for his big secret, which of course was his closeted homosexuality and how much of that drove his music," Felder said.

Felder will be performing "Our Great Tchaikovsky" through May 13, but his national tour continues with "Hershey Felder: Beethoven" and "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin."

A consummate professional, Felder always keeps his characters straight in this admittedly grueling schedule. His passion for performing is obvious; he wouldn't change it for the world.

"As one of the characters in the play says, 'You must work from morning until night! Morning until night, night until morning, this is the only life of the artist!"' Felder said.

Over 5,000 performances and he hasn't missed one.

Felder is already working on his next solo project, which will be about impressionist composer Claude Debussy. The show is scheduled to open in April of next year.
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