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15 Minutes with Erich Bergen

November 2nd, 2016 Comments off

by Jim Gladstone

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

On a November night ten years ago, 20-year-old recent college drop-out Erich Bergen flew to San Francisco from his home in New York to start the job he now describes as having “shot me out of a cannon.”

Cast as Bob Gaudio—spring-chicken of the Four Seasons—in the first national tour of the colossally successful Jersey Boys, Bergen spent over six and a half months rehearsing and performing at the Curran Theater in the City by the Bay.

He returns this weekend, bringing his latest cabaret act to Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

“The city has such a mystique for me now,” he said in a recent phone call from Manhattan. “I have amazing, intense memories associated with San Francisco. It seems like the way some friends who traveled around Europe after college feel about Paris. Whenever I go back it’s like this really important time of my life, the people, the music all coming rushing back.”

Once a child-actor—“My parents used to have me imitate all the singers on We Are The World as a party trick”—Bergen made his national debut at 11, playing Dana Carvey’s son on the comedian’s short-lived ABC variety show.

Bergen is only half-joking when he says, “San Francisco is the city where I became a man.”

“My birthday is New Year’s eve. I literally turned 21 there. I remember we had a cast party at a bar around the corner from the theater. I felt so good, like I’d really done something with my life. And I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.”

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

(Photo courtesy Erich Bergen via The Broadway Blog.)

Playing one of the Four Seasons in Jersey Boys puts a male lead in a slightly perilous situation: The adulation of the band by its fans is mimicked by baby boomer audiences out for a night on the town. It’s not hard for actors who play the roles to feel a bit like rock stars themselves.

“I had a lead role in one of the biggest shows of all time,” recalled Bergen. “I was on the road with it for a year and then opened the resident production in Las Vegas.” As a young, handsome star of that hit production—which went on to become the longest-running Broadway-to-Vegas show ever—Bergen was the toast (or at least one slice of the toast) of the town, buttered up by LA producers and casting agents who caught his act and beckoned him westward.

Not immune to charms and flattery, Bergen missed a few too many Jersey Boys performances for go-sees and screen tests. After two years, he was fired from the Vegas company.

“It was like coming off a big high,” he remembers. “I moved to LA and did that thing that all actors do. Going to audition after audition. Money drying up to the point where you wonder if you’re going to be able to fill the car with gas.”

Bergen picked up occasional small parts on shows in television series including Gossip Girl and Desperate Housewives and also flew back to New York with some frequency, participating in workshops and auditions for Ghost, Wicked and The Book of Mormon, but never landing a lead.

In his Los Angeles downtime, Bergen began to focus on his songwriting, eventually recording a pair of EPs consisting primarily of his original tunes—along with an almost downbeat cover of Madonna’s Open Your Heart.

“In the songs I write and the songs I love, the beat doesn’t come first,” says Bergen, who points to Billy Joel and James Taylor as writing influences. “Melody always wins with me. In twenty years, you’re not going to sit around a campfire and hum a beat. It’s called ‘Name That Tune’ not ‘Name That Beat.’”

The melodies of the great American songbook were attractive enough to Bergen that, in 2012, he did a spell on the road as tap-dancing Billy Crocker in the national tour of Anything Goes. “Bob in Jersey Boys was such a perfect part for me. This didn’t match my strengths as well. And frankly, it didn’t pay as well. I didn’t feel like it was what I should be doing.”

During the Anything Goes tour, Bergen returned to San Francisco, and was delighted to be booked to do his cabaret act on a dark night. Within days of his performance the club abruptly shut down, leaving Bergen with the worst of his San Francisco memories.

Returning to LA from the road and beginning to feel that his career was in a serious downturn, Bergen’s next big break echoed his first: A call from Clint Eastwood, asking him to reprise the role of Bob Gaudio in the movie adaptation of Jersey Boys.

While the film was generally viewed as a flop, the individual performers had a chance to show some star quality. “That film restarted everything for me,” says Bergen.

Erich Bergen plays Blake Moran on 'Madam Secretary' (Courtesy: CBS Broadcasting Inc. via The Broadway Blog)

Erich Bergen plays Blake Moran on ‘Madam Secretary’ (Courtesy: CBS Broadcasting Inc. via The Broadway Blog)

In short order, Bergen won the part of Blake Moran, openly gay assistant to Tea Leoni’s Madam Secretary on the CBS political drama. Rather unexpectedly, the showrunners for the program—which also includes recent Feinstein’s headliner Patina Miller in its cast—have (via karaoke, talent competitions, and the like) come up with opportunities for Bergen to show off his singing chops.

“I did ‘For the Longest Time”’and ‘Fire and Rain,’” he recalls, “And in the Thanksgiving week episode this month I do three separate numbers.”

Bergen’s return to San Francisco takes place during the series’ mid-season hiatus, and he looks forward to visiting some of his local landmarks.

“There’s a little 24-hour diner up the street from the Curran called Café Mason,” he recalls fondly. “It’s a nothing place, but almost every night after Jersey Boys, I went there and had a turkey and avocado sandwich. It was the best sandwich. I’ve never been able to match the joy of it.”

Erich Bergen
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
222 Mason Street, San Francisco
Saturday, November 5, 7 p.m.
Sunday, November 6, 3 p.m.

Jarrod Spector: A Little Help From My Friends

April 4th, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Scott Redman goes on a trip down memory lane with a little help from Broadway star Jarrod Spector.

jarrodJarrod Spector, fresh from his knockout performance as Barry Mann in the Broadway show, Beautiful, bursts onto the cabaret scene with the CD release of his solo act, “A Little Help From My Friends.” Due to popular demand, Studio 54 has added an encore performance on April 9, featuring special guest Barry Mann himself.

Spector’s spin on the evening is a blast-from-the-past crash course in the evolution of music styles focusing on the trajectory of rock and roll.  He pulls from a vast pool of  music icons including Paul McCartney, Little Richard, Freddie Mercury, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel.

Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Jarrod Spector and Anika Larsen in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

The swooner has the voice of a velvet jet, it is clear, textured and seductive. Spector’s rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago” is a great example of the artist’s vulnerable rock sensibility. He lures the listener with soft but deliberate vibrato. He continues to seduce with the crowd favorite, “Unchained Melody”, giving the song life and depth. The other side of Spector’s voice showcases a high-octange rocket ship energy. “Good Golly Miss Molly” has him riffing to the rafters.

Spector’s voice—one that echoes the past yet is distinctly its own—is like a vintage suit that has been tailored for the modern world. His greatest asset is his falsetto rock tenor timbre. “Don’t You Worry About a Thing” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” sounds as if he was born singing these songs. His performance contains an engine-like energy that keeps on going, never feeling forced but rather natural and inviting.

“A Little Help From My Friends” is available on Amazon.com and iTunes.

SHOW FOLK: The Creators of “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Part 1)

May 24th, 2012 Comments off

Roger Rees, Alex Timbers & Rick Elice. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Who knew a little fairy dust could be so powerful?

Like its orphan hero, the Broadway underdog Peter and the Starcatcher soared, grabbing nine Tony nominations — the most nods for any play this year. Behind the stellar cast is an equally starry creative team, led by co-Directors Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) & Roger Rees (most recently as an actor in The Addams Family) and writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys).

As they prepare for Tony night and a recently announced Peter national tour, this “dream team” sat down to answer a few questions about the show, their collaboration and their careers. First up, the playwright (and a Tony nominee this year for Best Score) Rick Elice…

Kevin Del Aguila & Christian Borle in "Peter and the Starcatcher". Image via O&M Co.

Peter feels like such a collaborative, improvisational work and yet the script is so intricate and detailed. What was the genesis of the script?

In 2007, Roger Rees and Alex Timbers embarked on a series of workshops to adapt Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel, Peter and the Starcatchersan origin story of Peter Pan – for the stage.  During the first “lab,” they worked entirely from the novel. But they needed some sort of introduction that would explain how narrative voices would be used in a potential play.  They called a mutual acquaintance, me, and I wrote them a prologue.  The first workshop led to a second, for which they needed some scenes, so the actors would know what to say.  They called a mutual acquaintance, me, and asked if I would supply some dialogue and some ideas for scenes that weren’t in the novel.  Dave and Ridley came to check it out.  Dave, not one to beat around any bush, asked “Who wrote that stuff?  We really like it.”  Tom Schumacher of Disney, who had underwritten the workshops, said, “That guy, sitting over there.”  (I raised my hand and grinned sheepishly.)  Then, Tom added, “He’s going to write the play.”  And sometimes, that’s how you get the gig.  So basically, it’s important to know directors who don’t have lots of friends who are writers.

Did you participate actively in rehearsals and did the cast influence the script? Is there still wiggle room for play in the piece even now that it has been “frozen” on Broadway?

I was at rehearsals every day, or close to it – (sometimes I had to do laundry).  I wouldn’t have missed them.  In La Jolla, I was rewriting whole sections, so I often sat in the room, glued to my keyboard.  I just liked being in a room with so much great, creative energy.  And I was getting to know the actors, and enjoyed the very particular pleasure of writing to various actors’ specific talents.  Between La Jolla and New York Theatre Workshop, I did major rewriting to accommodate a change in cast size, and a conceptual change that dramatically altered the two title roles – something we only learned through La Jolla’s great “Page to Stage” program, of which we were a part.   At Theatre Workshop, I was there every day, because I was jealous of the limited rehearsal time, and, by this time, had become great friends with the actors.  So to have a free ticket into the room was a treat.  Also, like a tailor at the local laundry, it was very efficient to have me there to do rewrites, and develop new sequences “on premises” – based on our finally having a set. For Broadway, we gave the actors a new script on the first day that had some big structural changes, and over the course of rehearsals, I was able to do very specific work.  I love being at rehearsals a lot.  I have the rest of my life to be somewhere else.

Wiggle room?  Well, actors of the caliber in Peter are so alive in their roles that wiggle room isn’t necessary.  Also, the physical tasks at hand require that everybody know what everybody is doing moment to moment, or someone could be hurt.  So no – the text is the text and the production is the production.  There are one or two “cadenza” moments, where the duration of certain things may vary from night to night, at the discretion of one or two of the actors.  It’s lovely when audience members say the whole thing has this entirely improvised feel, but believe me, it’s all worked out very carefully by the extraordinary ensemble of actors, the choreographer, the directors, the stage managers.  It’s a tribute to them that the play has that improvised feel.

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