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Gershwin’s America

a Musical Storytelling
CATEGORY :
by Alpin Hong and Adam Kaplan

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 5424

SHOWING : January 14, 2019 - January 14, 2019

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

George Gershwin (1898-1937), “America’s Composer,” synthesized jazz, classical music, opera, and ragtime into his unique style. Pianist Alpin Hong has played Gershwin’s music since his days as a young piano prodigy, but only truly unlocked his hailed Gershwin interpretations by wrestling with the intersections between his personal journey and Gershwin’s. Weaving Gershwin’s life story with his own through anecdotes and autobiographical recollections about his unique American-ness, Hong delivers world-class interpretations of some of our country’s most beloved songs in this tale about music, being a second-generation immigrant, and what it means to be American.


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REVIEWS

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A Musical Lecture
by playgoer
Friday, January 18, 2019
3.0
Classical pianist Alpin Hong and director/scenarist Adam Kaplan mined the biography of Mr. Hong to create the successful touring show "Chasing Chopin." Now they’re trying something similar with "Gershwin’s America." The reading at Theatrical Outfit’s Unexpected Play Festival represents an early, unrehearsed iteration of the script.

The goal seems to be to parallel and contrast the lives of Korean-American Alpin Hong and Ukrainian Jew-American George Gershwin. The problem is that both sides of the comparison are given short shrift. The juiciest material from Mr. Hong’s life as a child prodigy seems to have been used up in "Chasing Chopin," and a conscious attempt has been made to avoid duplication in the new show. The evening seems to be more of a personalized lecture than a theatre piece in its current form. The flip board used to gather descriptive adjectives from the audience at the start of the show emphasizes its educational content.

The draw of the show, aside from Mr. Hong’s engaging personality, is his virtuosic skill at the piano. He repeatedly sits at the stage’s upright piano to play pieces representative of George Gershwin’s popular, operatic, and classical compositions. The finale of the show is the full "Rhapsody in Blue," and it’s stunning in execution. The popular works don’t come across quite as well, since the focus of the arrangements is to show off pianistic skills. Oftentimes, a recognizable musical phrase is followed by a rapid series of notes that bury the melody ten feet under.

The talk back session after the staged reading was actually more engaging than the show itself. When Mr. Hong made a musical point by going to the piano to play just a phrase, it worked remarkably well. Interspersing lecture material with short examples builds up audience anticipation for some full-fledged piano playing. But the wedding of the Hong biography and the Gershwin biography as equals just doesn’t work in the current iteration. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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