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Piece Of My Heart

                                        by Eugene Paul

You could just tell: they smell it, they taste it, they’re so close…next stop, Broadway!

Alexander Dodge’s smashing set is ready, David C. Woolard’s costumes are really Done, the hipped orchestra is ready, Carl Casella’s sound system already reaches all the way to Broadway.  Daniel Goldfarb’s book has its lapses, yes, but that’s to be expected and fixable; director Denis Jones can take care of that.  No biggie.  He’s got most of the choreography already under his belt, he directs and choreographs – just some numb numbers in the Havana sequence that need fresh attitude.  Yes, it’s that Havana transition needs work.

 Woops.  Getting ahead of myself.  So much energy going around.  And that audience, a tuned in audience, and not just seniors going back to the time when – okay, slow down. Piece Of My Heart has a subtitle:  The Bert Berns Story.  Never heard of him?  That’s the core of the story.  The question is: why?  Why? When the list of his song hits bristles with titles you’ve known since, well, since your parents were kids, all made hits by the biggest names of the past. “Piece of my Heart”? And you think Janis Joplin.  “Twist and Shout”?  Beatles. But Bert Berns wrote them all.

 Then, how did he get so buried?  And why?

 He was only thirty- eight when he died, in 1967.  His children never knew him. He was a composer, a lyricist, a record producer, and the head of his own label, all accomplished in seven years, creating sounds that defined the way music developed thereafter, for better or worse, depending on how you look at it.  It was the giant who gave him his chance that set out later on to obliterate his name.  The music business. You don’t cross a music business giant.  They see things differently.  You may be a Bert Berns and think you’re writing hit songs. The giants know you’re writing hit product.

 Book writer Goldfarb hangs his story on the voyage of discovery of  the daughter of Bert Berns, Jessie ( a limited Leslie Kritzer) alone, on her own, struggling to make a career in the music world, when a message arrives from her dead father’s oldest friend Wazzel (Joseph Siravo) promising to tell all and to make amends . Come to New York. Find out who your father really was. Your mother is about to sell his whole catalog. Don’t let her.

 Then, in every scene that follows in Bert’s life, director Jones and writer Goldfarb make sure that Jessie is in the middle of it, the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the women, the gangsters, the sweetness of him, the discovery of his true loves, the drugs, the drink, the strong friendships, the betrayal he perpetrates, the betrayals he lives through, always knowing that his time was limited, that he had a weak heart.

Zok Resnick and Gabrielle Ruis             photos by Jenny Anderson

It takes someone truly special to give life to such a formulaic character and the gods came through.  Zak Resnick turns Bert Berns into gold, singing his songs as if he created every note, believing every word of lyrics that don’t deserve such caring, acting Bert’s life with such an awkward charm it turns out real. We hear each song he sings at its best. While he sings his heart out, the music giants turn his songs into product because they hear him in them and know everybody else will, too. “Are You Lonely for Me Baby”. “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”.  “Hang On Sloopy”. “I’m Gonna Take Good Care of You” “I Want Candy”.  “Piece of My Heart”.  “Show Me Your Monkey”.  “Twist and Shout”. And to top it all, he’s young, tall and handsome.  Without him there’s no show. As he’s restoring the name of Bert Berns with his performance, he’s making a name for himself.

His scenes with extraordinary De’adre Aziza who plays Candace, his early, naïve, torrid love, light up the stage.  So do the songs she sings. But they’re not the only show stoppers. Linda Burns turns on all her art  as his widow, Ilene, blasts out a  Berns hit , “I’ll be a Liar”, that has the rafters ringing, cleverly staged by Jones with a back up group sweetly singing harmony, calling her a liar. It’s funny and a winner.

So—is hanging twenty-six Bert Berns songs on a rough, short life played by a stellar new actor/singer going to cut it? A lot of people think it will.  I’m one.


Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, near 10th Avenue. Tickets: $89.50-$99.50. 212-279-4200 or 2 hrs, 40 min. Thru Aug 31?