Theater Review: "Our Great Tchaikovsky"

Ben Miles
HERSHEY FELDER stars in Our  Great Tchaikovsky, written by Hershey Felder and directed by Trevor Hay and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

 While it’s understandable to think of Pyotr (Peter in English) Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” (actually composed in 1880) as a musical homage to America’s second war with Great Britain, that would be an “alternative fact.” The piece was actually developed in commemoration of the Russian defense so bravely displayed when that country was invaded by Napoleon’s Grand Armee (Great Army). This, of course, is one reason why many musicologists regard Tchaikovsky as “the most Russian” of all composers.

Now, thanks to the melodic abilities and storytelling skills of Hershey Felder (who’s carved a niche for himself as the foremost musical re-re-enactor on the scene today; he’s also portrayed Beethoven, Chopin, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein), Tchaikovsky’s bio-musical is on view at the Laguna Playhouse through March 26. Directed by Trevor Hay – with costuming by Abigail Caywood, lighting and projection design by Christopher Ash, sound design by Erik Carstensen, and a glorious scenic design by Felder himself (which includes Russian period décor and antique furniture, including imported carpets Sent from my iPhone reading a letter from the Russian government inviting him to perform the Tchaikovsky show in that country.

The issue is that Tchaikovsky (B-1840, D-1893), according to the best scholarship available, was a homosexual and the Russian government is in an official state of denial regarding the matter. Indeed, to be gay in Russia is a dangerous situation. Virulent anti-homosexual sentiment in that country has imperiled many lives. What’s more, the Russian government has, by fiat, declared Tchaikovsky a heterosexual, with no toleration of any if, ands or buts.

Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky’s sexuality is a major through-line in the story of his life. A sensitive boy, Tchaikovsky was close to his mother as a youth. He was groomed to be a civil servant and did work for the Russian government in that capacity. Still, music was his passion. Even as an employee of the Russian civil service, Tchaikovsky continued his formal education in music.

In a life surrounded by and subject to immense tragedy, Tchaikovsky nonetheless was able to sublimate his tortured existence into what amounts to some of the world’s most treasured compositions, including “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “The Sleeping Beauty” the love theme to “Romeo and Juliet” and, of course, the “1812 Overture.”

Though Tchaikovsky’s death certificate lists cholera as the cause of his demise, many biographers are convinced that the composer committed suicide after being subjected to the humiliation of a sex scandal trial. Felder does not shy away from this information.

To conclude the presentation Felder again addresses the invitation to take the revealing show to Russia. In such a hostile climate to the issue of homosexuality, will Felder brave the trip to this unwelcoming culture and perform this provocative piece in front of Russians? The answer is given at the show’s conclusion.

Tickets: $60 - $75  – visit or call (949) 497-2787



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