Singers often say good accompanists are worth their weight in gold. At today’s prices, that would make writer-musician-actor Hershey Felder worth nearly $6 million. [Let’s break that down: $6 million is nearly equal to a 180 pound man at $32,000 per pound.]
That’s twice as much as TheatreWorks’ $3 million fundraising campaign that Felder is anchoring by donating his conducting and piano accompaniment expertise for a Great American Songbook Singalong on Oct. 11 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
TheatreWorks put out a community-wide distress call about its financial shortfall during the summer. With Felder’s coming appearance a catalyst during September, more than $2.3 million had been raised by the end of the month, said Silicon Valley’s premier theater organization, which says it needs to reach the $3 million figure by the end of November to salvage its 2023-24 season.
Felder may or may not be worth $6 million, but his financial value to TheatreWorks has been well-established by the popularity of his nearly annual one-man shows, in which he has inhabited the personas of music composers ranging from Beethoven and Chopin to George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, telling their stories while punctuating them with both his piano virtuosity and his singing ability.
He fills seats. His simple-to-produce shows reportedly have been TheatreWorks’ most profitable during the past 10 years, and it appears the Singalong audience will be a full house of about 600.
Singalongs, especially featuring 20th Century American classics, are sort of a side hustle for Felder, 55. He has a specific idea of what he has in store for an audience that includes a $1,000 ticket tier, as well as a $500 tier and a general admission tier that tops out at $250. There are a few $45 seats as well, which Felder says he insisted upon when he agreed to donate his services to TheatreWorks for an evening.
You can expect a lot of the audience members to be fairly good singers who may or may not ever perform anywhere. “The more musicians we have in the audience, maybe even singing harmony…boy, is that fun,” Felder says.
The emphasis is on the American Songbook classics from the middle of the 20th century. “A lot of the golden oldies are what I find people sing easily. Love songs from the theater work exceptionally well,” he says.
The Irving Berlin show included a demonstration of what those attending the Wednesday Singalong can expect, as Felder let the audience handle “White Christmas”; “God Bless America”; and “Always,” feeding them the lyrics phrase by phrase. No supertitles. “The point is to be surprised,” says Felder. “If you print them, the audience will know what’s going on the whole time.”
The Wednesday crowd can expect about 25 songs, with some discussion from Felder between songs over the two-hour duration. He mentioned Broadway favorites such as “Some Enchanted Evening”; “You’ll Never Walk Alone”; “Send in the Clowns”; “Embraceable You”; “Sunrise, Sunset”; and “Maria,”: (from West Side Story); but also Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” and a song made famous by Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Also expected is a fair number of people wearing masks, as singers exhale vigorously and COVID is trending upward again. TheatreWorks recommends masks but doesn’t mandate them. Masks would be a reminder of the main reason this benefit is necessary, which is largely because former theater regulars have not resumed attendance since the pandemic began in 2020.
The singalong may be luring some of patrons back into the fold. More than 500 community members have contributed to the fund drive, TheatreWorks reports.
“We can almost see the finish line,” states TheatreWorks Artistic Director Giovanna Sardelli. “We are continuing to hear from people whose lives have been touched by TheatreWorks throughout the past 53 years, as well as those who just want to ensure live theater remains a vibrant part of the community.”
Although Felder grew up in Montreal and lives in Europe with his wife, former Canada Prime Minister Kim Campbell, he’s certainly proving he’s a valuable part of the San Jose community.
The public can support TheatreWorks by visiting theatreworks.org/support/save-theatreworks
Hershey Felder’s Great American Songbook Sing-along
Wed, 7:30 p.m., $45-1,000
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts