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'Our Great Tchaikovsky'

Hershey Felder stars in "Our Great Tchaikovsky."

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The life of classical composer Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky is unfolding on stage in Chicago courtesy of Hershey Felder.

"Our Great Tchaikovsky" continues through May 13 at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre. The Chicago production of the show is the Midwest Premiere of "Our Great Tchaikovsky," which was written by Felder and directed by Trevor Hay. Felder also performs as the iconic composer in this one-man show.

"It opened in San Diego last year in January," Felder said, during a recent phone interview. The show also has played at Hartford Stage, Theatreworks Silicon Valley, London's West End and Los Angeles' Wallis Annenberg.

Actor/playwright Felder, who also is a musician, was the scenic designer for the show as well. Felder performs many of Tchaikovsky's famous pieces during the production.

"Our Great Tchaikovsky," is described as a "play with music"and features a variety of tunes including selections from "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake."

"His music is complex to play but so beautiful and so well arranged," Felder said, adding he's been fascinated by the work of Tchaikovsky since he was a child.

Felder has previously brought the lives and work of various classical musicians to the stage, including Chopin, Beethoven and Liszt. The actor/musician also has focused on the music of Irving Berlin in one of his recent popular shows.

In "Our Great Tchaikovsky," Felder explores the composer's complicated life, the mysteries surrounding his death and the backstories of many of the compositions themselves. He said many people aren't familiar with the life story of "Tchaikovsky" or what his struggles were.

"He was a closeted homosexual and lived at a time when it was difficult to be one," Felder said. Tchaikovsky's compositions, Felder explained, really shined a light on his feelings and the composer put a great deal of his own emotions into his musical works.

"He was accused of wearing his heart on his sleeve, " Felder said.

While most audiences now favor the music from "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake," Felder said it wasn't like that when both debuted.

'"Swan Lake' wasn't well received and 'The Nutcracker was despised," Felder said.

The actor/musician said with all his productions, he aims to "tell a good story."

Felder's next production, which he's working on now, will highlight the composer Claude Debussy. It's due out next year.

FYI: "Our Great Tchaikovsky" starring Hershey Felder continues to May 13 at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago. Tickets are $55. Call 312-335-1650 or visit steppenwolf.org.

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Features reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.