For Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys told their tale(s) . For Carole King, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weill, Beautiful made them shine. For Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, and other notorious soul singers, Motown: The Musical had these legends taking center stage. For Bert Berns, it is the current off-Broadway tribute slash bio-pic show Piece of My Heart that has revitalized his legacy. Wait a minute…Bert who? Do you mean you’ve never heard of the man who penned the pop hit “Show Me Your Monkey?” Ok, probably not, but you likely have heard the show’s title song, made popular by Janis Joplin.
This is precisely the point of Piece of My Heart . Berns never reached the level of stardom and fame his singer-songwriter contemporaries of the sixties enjoyed, but in just seven years, he penned countless hits including “Hang On Sloopy”, “Here Comes the Night”, “I Want Candy”, “Tell Him”, and “Twist and Shout”. Book writer Daniel Goldfarb and the creative team behind this jukebox musical have set out to explain the story of a man who died all too young and whose business partnerships left his name as “nothing more than a footnote.” His life is a sad reminder of the corruption and lack of loyalty that often pervades a rise to the top. Still, there are plenty of joyful moments in the show and this accomplished cast offers some of the finest ensemble singing and dancing seen in quite some time.
Zak Resnick, who stars as Berns, brings just the right amount of drive, determination, and vulnerability to the role. It doesn’t hurt that his voice is capable of melting hearts either. Candace (De’Adra Aziza) , Berns girlfriend, is full of sass and verve. Upon meeting her “nice Jewish Boy”, she is quick to inform him that she is “experienced, knows all the down cats and is gonna blow his mind.” Aziza’s stage presence is commanding and her beautiful vocals are noteworthy. The always reliable Leslie Kritzer delivers another fine performance as Jessie, Berns daughter and a girl who never knew her father except through his music. Linda Hart stops the show as Ilene, Berns’ widow, in a rousing and hilarious number, “I’ll Be a Liar”
Goldfarb’s book is thin and much of the dialogue reads like a script from a Hallmark television movie. Yet it still shines a spotlight on a music legend whose contributions should not be overlooked nor forgotten. There is buzz about the show seeking a move to Broadway. Whether it does or does not remains to be seen. For now, it is worth a trip to The Pershing Square Signature Center to see and hear this hugely entertaining untold story from the archives of music history.
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, now playing off- Broadway through September 14th at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 W. 42nd Street Between 9th and 10th Ave). For tickets and information visit http://pieceofmyheartmusical.com .