musical shines spotlight on forgotten composer Bert Berns
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[June 13, 2014]
By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hits such as
"Brown Eyed Girl," "Twist and Shout" and "Hang on Sloopy" made Bert
Berns one of his era's most successful songwriters and producers
before he died in 1968, yet few people outside the music industry
ever knew about him.
That could change with a new musical, "Piece of My Heart: The
Bert Berns Story" which begins previews on June 25 and opens
Off-Broadway on July 21.
Rolling Stone magazine described the songwriter's life as "one
of the great untold stories of rock and roll."
Denis Jones, the director and choreographer of "Piece of My
Heart," believes now is the time to tell it.
"He was not supposed to live past 30," Jones said during sneak
preview of the show that includes more than 20 of the
songwriter's hits. "Interestingly, the entire body of work that
he generated was between his 30th birthday and his passing."
As a teenager Berns suffered from rheumatic fever, which damaged
his heart. He died from a heart attack at the age of 38.
From the rhythm and blues song "Under the Boardwalk" for The
Drifters and "Tell Him," the hit for The Exciters to "Cherry
Cherry," which sent Neil Diamond to the top of the charts, Berns
produced dozens of hits that were recorded by the Beatles,
Rolling Stones, David Bowie and other artists.
But he was never honored for or credited with so much of his
"He had some connections, some people around him who were
tricky. And based on their business practices, after he passed
certain people decided to wipe him out of the history books,"
"All of that will be explained in the play," he added.
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"Piece of My Heart" is the latest of the jukebox musicals that have
drawn huge theater audiences. "Jersey Boys," the Tony-winning show
about singer Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, has been playing on
Broadway for more than eight years. The film adaptation, directed by
Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood, will open in U.S. theaters next
Jessie Mueller won a Tony on Sunday night for her starring role in
the musical "Beautiful: The Carole King Story" and the hit show
"After Midnight" features original arrangements from the 1920s and
30s by jazz great Duke Ellington.
"Music becomes part of your life. Through popular culture you
connect to it so deeply. I know we all do that with this music. We
remember where we were," said Jones.
Zak Resnick (Mamma Mia!") plays Berns and Leslie Kritzer ("Legally
Blonde") is his daughter in the show that shifts between the past
Like most people Resnick knew the music but not the man.
"He is such an intense, complicated person. He went through so much
to find his voice, his sound and his style," Resnick said about
Berns. "There were some dark times and he left this world far too
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and David
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