Interview: Zak Resnick Talks the Thrills of Sharing Bert Berns' Story in PIECE OF MY HEART!

By: Jul. 21, 2014
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Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, a new musical based on the life and songs of legendary songwriter Bert Berns, produced by Merged Work Productions (lead producers) and Jack Thomas (Executive Producer), opens tonight, July 21, 2014, at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center.

Bert Berns (played by Zak Resnick), whose life is also the subject of the just-released book Here Comes the Night, was born in New York in 1929 and died tragically of a heart attack at just 38 years of age. But in his short career, Berns left an indelible mark on popular music; he made fifty-one pop chart singles in seven years and became one of the most successful songwriters of the 1960s. Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story tells his remarkable story, once dubbed by Rolling Stone "one of the great untold stories of rock and roll," through his hit songs, which include "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him," "I Want Candy," "Hang On Sloopy," "Cry Baby," "Piece of My Heart," and many more.

As previews were wrapping up last week, Resnick chatted with BroadwayWorld about the impending opening, what it's like playing such a complex character, and much more. Check out the full interview below!

Opening night is just around the corner! How have previews been going so far?

We're wrapping up previews right now- we open next week on Monday. Morale is really high! People seem to really like the show. I think that it's hard not to like it because the music is so good. Literally what everyone says when they walk out is "Oh, I didn't know Bert wrote that... or that, or that!" People are learning at the same time and it's fun for them. We are very excited though. We have a nice little run ahead of us and we feel like we are off to a good start!

A lot of people don't really know about Bert Burns... were you familiar with him before getting this part?

Not even one percent! I knew all of the music, but that's the point of the story I guess. Nobody knew him. I'm not ashamed to say that I had not a clue who the guys was, but I feel richer now having his influence in my life. I think he was a force to be reckoned with. And he did a lot for the music industry.

Do you have a favorite song of his?

I think it would have to be "Here Comes the Night." It's the Act One finale and such a powerful song. It's so funny, when you listen to the other version, like David Bowie's, it's so different from what we do in the show. Obviously "Twist and Shout" and "Hang on Sloopy" are such fun songs, but I think "Here Comes the Night" is so sad and beautiful and melodic.

Is that the part of the show that you look the most forward to every night?

I have a lot of them but that song is definitely one of them!

Was there anything particularly surprising that you learned about Bert throughout this process?

I think that one of the most interesting things about him is that he wasn't the best guy. Joel Selvin wrote the book "Here Comes the Night," which came out about a month or two ago. This is his quote, but it's so good: "Bert wanted the best but his best was just as good as anyone else." He had ties in the mob and he did dirty things to get where he wanted to be. Nobody died or anything like that, but they were certainly morally questionable things to have done. I don't necessarily agree with those choices, but I think that it makes him a more complex and incredible person to portray as an actor.

Having come straight from Mamma Mia!, has it been refreshing to work on a new project in which you get a little bit more creative freedom?

The people at Mamma Mia! were really great about letting us find things for ourselves. It wasn't like: "Oh, well this is what has been done. You need to do this." Of course you can't go so far out of the box that it strays from the show. They were really good about letting each of us bring something new to the roles.

Having said that though, there's nothing like creating a new character. It's the absolute dream. I feel very grateful to have this opportunity. There are so many elements that go into it that you don't even know and once you get there it's this whole other thing! And I mean that in the best way! There are so many layers and so much time. It's all-consuming. There's really no other life outside of the show.

I think it has to do with the size of this role as well though. When I was in Mamma Mia! my role was an important one but small. I don't have to alter my daily life to do my job. In this show I have something like fifteen to twenty songs, so I definitely have to take better care of my voice. And I have to try to conserve my energy, because I really need it! It's all things like that, but they are all amazing things that I am happy, if not bouncing off the walls, to do.

You're working with a fabulous company of actors. What has that been like?

It's been a really amazing experience. There's really not a weak link. Everyone is so freaking talented! And on top of that, everyone has got everyone else's back. It's a supportive cast. Early on in the process when I saw the cast list I said, "Well, if nothing else we will blow the roof off of the theater!" The voices in this show are crazy stupid. It's an honor to work with them every day. They show up and give 100%, and that's all you can really ask for.

Bottom line, why should people head to the Signature Center to see this show?

I think Bert deserves it. It's been about 50 years since he died and he deserves to stay in the sun. His time has come, and people need to find out about him!

The full 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, Bryan Fenkart as Young Wazzel, with an ensemble that includes Carleigh Bettiol, Teresa Gattison, Shonica Gooden, Sydney James Harcourt, Jessica McRoberts, Ralph Meitzler, Harris Milgrim, Michael Millan,Heather Parcells, Gabrielle Ruiz, Amos Wolff, and Mark Zeisler.

The performance schedule for Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story is as follows: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 PM, Wednesday at 2:00 PM, Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 PM.

Resnick's Broadway credits include: Mamma Mia! (Sky). Off-Broadway: Disaster (Chad) directed by Denis Jones, Lucky Guy (Billy Ray u/s). TV: Lovestruck (DJ) for ABC Family. Workshops: Piece of My Heart (Bert Berns), Irma La Douce (with Katie Holmes) directed by Rob Ashford, Lempicka (Tadeusz) for Yale Rep, BARE: A Pop Opera (Jason), Dogfight (Fector) for Lincoln Center, Outlaws (Jesse James), & Blue Flower for Second Stage. Zak is currently recording his first album. BFA, Carnegie Mellon University & an Acting student of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, AU.

Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson