OFFBEAT: 'American Story' Hershey Felder's stage telling of Lincoln's final day

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-03-12T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: 'American Story' Hershey Felder's stage telling of Lincoln's final dayBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Even since my earliest school days, I've always loved history.

So I was surprised by how many intricate details I had forgotten about from that terrible night when President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Entertainer Hershey Felder's riveting and fast-paced new stage production now premiering in Chicago, captures both the timeline and tragedy of the final hours of our nation's 16th president.

Felder's Eighty-Eight Entertainment is presenting this run of his new production called "American Story for Actor and Orchestra," which uses music and story during the limited engagement at The Royal George Theatre, 1641 North Halsted through April 14.

"An American Story" features an original book and score by Felder and is performed with Felder alone, backed with a live orchestra for the 85-minute no intermission span.

It draws upon the songs of great American composer Stephen Foster, as well as President Lincoln's own words, based on true events as Felder explains it, "seen through the eyes of a simple young man who suddenly found himself at the center of world history."

Set in New York City in 1932, the stage story tells of 90-year old Dr. Charles Leale sharing his true story as he travels back in time and recounts the events that changed his life forever 67 years prior. Felder stars as Leale, the 23-year-old unknown Union Army medic who was the first individual to reach the presidential box at Ford's Theatre on the night President Lincoln was shot.

Per the request of Mrs. Lincoln, Leale cared for the president throughout his final hours. Felder's new production is based on Leale's account, as well as his original report from 1865, which created an international sensation when it was discovered amongst Lincoln's papers in Washington, D.C., in June 2012.

Until seeing Felder's compelling performance, I had forgotten details such as the assassination happened on Good Friday and the president sat in a rocking chair in the private viewing box with his wife and Maj. Henry Rathbone, along with the latter's fiance Clara Harris. Because Rathbone had been stabbed after attempting to grab the actor-turned-assassin John Wilkes Booth, who was armed with both a knife and gun, it was originally thought the president had been stabbed.

It seems unimaginable today, to comprehend that the president's theater box was unguarded at the time of the incident.  (The president had opted not to bring his main bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, to the play, and his bodyguard for the night, John Parker, had left theater during intermission to reportedly join Lincoln's coachman for drinks in a saloon next door.)

"An American Story" runs 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $60 to $65 by calling (312) 988-9000 or visit

CORRECTION: Monday's column about "Fiddler on the Roof" at Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Ill., it neglected to list that actor David Girolmo played the role of Tevye for the weekend performances in place of ailing actor Peter Kevoian.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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