Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein at Royal George Theatre | Theater review
The newest of Hershey Felder’s composer bioplays paints a musically sumptuous but surface-level portrait of Leonard Bernstein.
Felder zestfully takes up the baton to conduct this one-man musical portrayal of the many-faceted conductor/composer: precocious son of an unsympathetic Russian Jewish immigrant father; ambitious protégé; dazzling musician and poised teacher who deftly employed the new medium of television; and conflicted husband, “perfectly behaviorized” to subvert his attraction to men. Felder skillfully intertwines narrative and performance, Bach and West Side Story, and, thematically, love and music, just as Bernstein did in his lifelong drive to achieve ascendancy—transcendence, really—in both.
More than half of the play covers the composer’s discovery and mastery of his immense gifts, taking us to the night he substitute-conducted the New York Philharmonic and “blew the roof off” Carnegie Hall. But Maestro, as musically thrilling as its predecessors in Felder’s line of explorations of charismatic musical figures like Gershwin, Beethoven and Chopin, doesn’t really reach a roof-blowing emotional intensity, eliding a more profound exploration of the appetites and imperfections that propelled Bernstein’s brilliance.