Actor-composer Hershey Felder, 29, has a way with politicians.
Mayor Richard Riordan has asked him to collaborate on a musical. And Felder is writing another musical with Kim Campbell, Canada’s former prime minister and the country’s current consul general in Los Angeles. Last week, she hosted a luncheon to promote Felder’s one-man show, “Sing! A Musical Journey,” which comes to UCLA’s Freud Playhouse on March 11 and runs through March 15.
So why are pols drawn to the pianist? Perhaps it’s because Felder, a Steinway Concert Artist, is also a Renaissance man. He began performing on the concert stage at the age of 11, and, as a boy, he acted with Montreal’s Yiddish Theater. By 1988, he was touring the world as a pianist and actor. Fluent in English, French, Yiddish and Hebrew, he has also interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
Last week, a reporter caught up with Felder during the “Sing!” luncheon at the Canadian consular residence in Hancock Park. Felder cooked all the food for the luncheon, which featured an incongruous menu that included chicken soup, stuffed cabbage and pieroges — the childhood food of the Holocaust survivors profiled in “Sing!” Felder said.
Actually, Felder moved into the consular residence after he and Campbell, 50, fell in love while collaborating on “Noah’s Arc,” a Holocaust allegory, last year. Today, an enormous menorah, a Passover plate and a mezuzah are displayed amid the fine furniture in the elegant ballroom; once a month, Felder and Campbell host a Shabbat dinner for some 35 guests. He supervises all the cooking; she recites some of the brachot.
The two had met when Felder came to the consulate in fall 1996 to renew his passport for a trip to Auschwitz. Campbell then persuaded him to perform selections from “Sing!” at a star-studded Christmas party; eventually, the two became “a unified couple in life and in art,” Felder said.
At first glance, however, the collaborators seem an unusual couple. Felder, the artist, comes from a family of Holocaust survivors and Orthodox rabbis. Campbell, the attorney and politician, is of Protestant, Scotch-Irish extraction. She served as Canada’s first female attorney general, defense minister, justice minister and prime minister, the latter a brief, turbulent term in 1993.
Nevertheless, Campbell told a reporter, her collaboration with Felder makes sense and is, in fact, beshert. In college, she used to write for the musical theater. And all her life, she has been deeply affected by the Holocaust.
Campbell grew up with the World War II stories of her parents, both veterans; as a child, she devoured Holocaust-themed books such as Leon Uris’ “Mila 18.” Her first husband was Jewish, she said, and, as Canada’s justice minister, she oversaw the deportation of the first Nazi war criminal from Canada.
“Sing!” she believes, personalizes the enormity of the Holocaust. In the play, Felder transforms into several survivors and also tells his own story of survival. His mother died of cancer when he was only 13. Thereafter, he clung to the piano and to the music lessons he had previously despised. “That was all [I] had left of her to hold onto,” he said.
After the “Sing!” run, Felder and Campbell will redouble their efforts on “Noah’s Arc,” which they’re hoping to stage as soon as June. “If we have a good response, it will be tempting for me to do this full time at some point,” said Campbell, the co-lyricist.
Actor-composer Hershey Felder in “Sing!”