Upon entering the Pasadena Playhouse’s Theater, the world of Old Town Pasadena is left behind, and the re-creation of the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. springs into life. The stage is elaborately draped in green and yellow curtains; there is a picture of George Washington hanging above the stage. There are even presidential flags decorating the balcony boxes to the left and right of the stage. A lone red rocking chair sits on the stage, next to a military rifle, which has a Union Army hat positioned on top. Taking your seat, you know instantly that this will be an emotional ride in America’s past. Lincoln: An American Story is the newest work from composer/playwright/actor Hershey Felder.
Felder has made a career of taking great legends from music and creating one man shows, honoring their brilliance. The in depth material and brilliant melding of life stories with the music the men have created and the perfection to which the material is delivered is a tribute to Felder’s own brilliance. Lincoln is a step away from Felder’s usual choice material but it is just as beautifully presented. Upon doing research for his various shows, Felder came across a letter written by Dr. Charles Augustus Leale, a Union Army Doctor who was at the Ford’s Theatre the night President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Leale was only 23-years-old, yet he was the first one to see the President and one of the last ones to hold his hand.
Felder was very moved by this story and wrote a one-man show for actor and orchestra. This powerful story is short (with a run-time of 70 minutes) and yet incredibly impactful for any American with a heart. The first twenty minutes of the show is spent on background of both Leale, his relationship with the President, and what he knew of John Wilkes Booth before the night he shot the President. That first twenty minutes, is nowhere near as enthralling and poignant as the moment Leale arrives at the theatre. Yet to start with the gunshot would make this performance a mere 50 minutes long, and yet such a slow start did have an impact on the power that this performance delivered. There is no question of Felder’s talent, or to the impact that this performance may have on audiences. However, perhaps he should stick to the great composers of our past, for which he will surely be one of.