Review Roundup: PIECE OF MY HEART: THE BERT BERNS STORY Off-Broadway
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, a new musical based on the life and songs of legendary songwriter Bert Berns, opened tonight, July 21, 2014, at the The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center.
The featured cast of Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story includes Zak Resnick as Bert Berns, Drama Desk Award nominee Leslie Kritzer as Jessie, Theatre World Award-winner Linda Hart as Mom, Joseph Siravo as Wazzel, Tony Award nominee de'Adre Aziza as Candace, Derrick Baskin as Hoagy, and Teal Wicks as Ilene, and Bryan Fenkart as Young Wazzel.
In his short career, Berns left an indelible mark on popular music and became one of the most successful songwriters of the 1960s. His hits include "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him," "I Want Candy," "Hang On Sloopy," "Cry Baby," "Piece of My Heart," and many more.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Times: ...the director-choreographer Denis Jones's focus is far sharper on the musical numbers than on the storytelling, which doesn't help Daniel Goldfarb's somewhat hokey book...A smoker and drinker who knew from childhood that he had a weak heart, Bert is played by Zak Resnick, whose healthy good looks suggest he's just come from a track meet and is about to change into tennis whites. But, oh, his voice: That's why he's here...The show's shortcomings would matter more without Garry Sherman's rich orchestrations and the ensemble of musicians...that bring fresh vibrancy and dimension to tunes we've heard a thousand times before. The danger for any jukebox musical is that the songs will seem like cheesy covers or pale imitations. But when Derrick Baskin, playing Bert's loyal friend Hoagy, brings his own sweet vibe to "Twist and Shout," you're barely thinking about the Beatles. Instead, and maybe for the first time in years, you're thinking about the music.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: As a labor of love and copyright control, Piece of My Heart does its job to some extent...The glossy production has been blessed with a large, high-level cast whose excellent voices do credit to Berns's Brill Building standards...And director-choreographer Denis Jones gives his six main dancers an abundance of exciting moves to keep the audience engaged when the narrative fails. In Daniel Goldfarb's book, alas, that is most of the time. It's not just that the dialogue is gobsmackingly trite...There is also a profound awkwardness in how the numbers have been squeezed into dramatic service...THE BOTTOM LINE The flesh and blood are willing, but the dramatic spirit is weak.
Linda Winer, Newsday: It is a good story, an unknown story and a worthy addition to rock history. What it is not, alas, is more than a middling, earnest bio-musical produced by two of his adult children. The music is infectious, the singing and dancing are up to the legacy. But Daniel Goldfarb's book, no doubt true to the heirs' intentions, is a mysterious jumble of too much information, copious grudges and not enough answers.
Jesse Green, Vulture: (Most of the performers, including Zak Resnick as Berns, are charming enough, and sing the groovy arrangements well, but only Leslie Kritzer, as Jessie, and Derrick Baskin, as Berns's betrayed pal, find ways to shape some kind of character around their shoehorned songs.) Nevertheless, Denis Jones, who directed and choreographed, does not seem to have found a way to marshal these resources toward any coherent end. The staging fails to answer basic questions of where and when, and his rock-n-roll dances emphasize the social conventionality of the songs while the book is trying to bend them toward individual psychodrama, thus straining the already tenuous connection between the music and the story.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: ...there's plenty of drama in the life story of a man who wrote and produced 51 hits in seven years and died tragically young at age 38 after a teenage bout of rheumatic fever wreaked havoc on his heart. Yet in Piece of My Heart, Berns (played by Zak Resnick) is almost relegated to supporting-character status...His family, his neighborhood, why he wanted to write songs, what he loved about rhythm and blues, what drove him...none of this is anywhere on stage. And as vocally appealing as Resnick is, he's got all the toughness of a teddy bear.
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Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson