From the first piano notes and hauntingly beautiful singing in his one-man bio show, writer-performer Hershey Felder grips the audience in the palm of his hand and never lets go. Beginning by analyzing one of the most famous melodies of West Side Story, Somewhere, Felder points out the tritone and minor sevenths in a brief, fascinating tutorial on how that composition was created. He then crawls inside Bernsteins skin, as well as adopting various other personae, taking us through the legendary conductor-composers eventful life. At 100 minutes without intermission, this musically infused evening, directed and austerely staged by Joel Zwick, rolls through Bernsteins fascination with music from early childhood, his quest for accomplished teachers and mentors, and touches on his creative struggles, his successes and career disappointments as well as his private family life. Felder glosses over certain details (merely hinting at an early seduction by an older mentor), but later gives some heartbreaking insight into Bernsteins homosexuality and how that exploration destroyed his marriage and, more profoundly, crushed his own conflicted spirit. This is a captivating performance of a fascinating life, vividly and emotionally related. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. $65-85. (310) 208-5454.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 10. Continues through Dec. 12, 2010