The Soul of Gershwin

Published: May 5th 2010
in Culture » Stage

The Company of The Soul of Gershwin
Pic: courtesy of FLIP Publicity
Klezmerica in The Soul of Gershwin
Pic: courtesy of FLIP Publicity

The Soul of Gershwin, the final production of Harold Green Jewish Theatre’s third season, is not quite a musical and not quite a play. Think of it more like a music lesson, retrospective, monologue, and concert rolled into one, centering on and starring one of the most popular and influential American composers of all time: George Gershwin.


The full title of the show is The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. As playwright Joseph Vass explains in his note, the word “klezmer” didn’t always refer to a style of Eastern European music – it originally meant a person who created music, or a musician.


The Soul of Gershwin shows exactly how he earned that label. With an onstage band, Klezmerica, three stunning singers, and Gershwin himself (played by Michael Paul Levin) as narrator, The Soul of Gershwin illuminates the genius of the man not just through his own music, but by showing how he melded different styles to make his own sound and how his tunes influenced other popular melodies. “Good composers borrow music. Great ones steal it,” Gershwin says at one point in the show. You probably never made the connection between Gershwin’s compositions and The Flintstones theme song, or gospel church music and wailing Shabbat prayers, or knew that Cole Porter wanted to adopt the inherently Jewish emotional rhythms that ran through Gershwin’s tunes, but you will with the mini lessons and musical illustrations distributed throughout the show.


The highlight of Soul is the three very different but equally captivating singers: the Griot (Bruce A. Henry), who performs much of the gospel-type music; the Chanteuse (Prudence Johnson), whose slinky rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me” makes you feel like you’re sitting in a smoky jazz club; and the Chazzen (Robert Marinoff), who imbues some of his cantor-like numbers with a wonderfully humourous flair.


All three are very clearly enjoying themselves onstage, and their presence goes a long way to making the whole experience feel intimate, despite the largeness of the theatre. Even Levin’s bland impersonation of Gershwin (were clichés like a cigar in the mouth really necessary?) doesn’t detract from the show because after all, The Soul of Gershwin is really about the music. This production is a must for Gershwin lovers, and even if you’re not – or unfamiliar with his music, like I was – you’re guaranteed to leave the theatre with a little more insight into musical history and composition, and “I Got Rhythm” running through your head.




The Soul of Gershwin runs until May 9 at the Winter Garden Theatre. For more information, visit

Related articles: (stage, gershwin, the soul of gershwin, harold green jewish theatre, klezmer)

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