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EXCLUSIVE: Classicalite Q&A with Zak Resnick, Star of 'Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story'

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Aug 12, 2014 04:00 PM EDT
Zak Resnick Zak Resnick in 'Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story' at the Pershing Square Signature Center, extended through September 14, 2014. (Photo : Jenny Anderson)

Zak Resnick stars as R&B songwriter and producer Bert Berns, the "forgotten man" of the classic R&B era, in the new musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, directed by Denis Jones and now extended through September 14 at the off-Broadway Pershing Square Signature Center.

Resnick talked to us about playing a troubled real-life figure whose songs have stood the test of time but whose name has been almost erased from the history books of pop music.

It's "a total dream role and dream cast," says the actor. "We're having a blast doing this show for people eight times a week."

Bert Berns wrote or co-wrote many classic hits including "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him," "I Want Candy," "Hang On Sloopy," "Here Comes the Night," "Cry Baby" and "Piece of My Heart" to name a few, and produced a great many hits by other songwriters. But he died in 1967 aged only 38. Many in the audience will be surprised to learn that so many songs they know were written or co-written by a man whose name they've never heard.

Like most of us, Resnick, who sings many of Berns's songs in Piece of My Heart, knew quite a few of them too, "but had no idea about the man himself. I say that unashamedly since that's the whole point of what we're doing here--bringing awareness to the world of who he was and what he accomplished."

I found the show effective in large part because the songs work so well in the storytelling. Resnick agrees: Berns "wrote sort of autobiographically, so they tell his story in a way. And because of that they do a nice job of furthering the plot."

I asked about the challenges and rewards of playing someone whose work is lastingly famous but whose life is almost unknown. "It's sort of amazing," the actor says, "because I get to create the man in a sense, since people don't have an image or sound that they expect. Bert's real life kids (Brett and Cassie Berns) were in the room with us every day and they were a really helpful source of knowledge as to who Bert was. Also Joel Selvin's book Here Comes The Night was really helpful."

Zak Resnick has been in Mamma Mia! on Broadway and played Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Lerma in Don Carlos (the play, not the opera), and Elmo in Songs From Bedlam among other roles. But when asked which role is the most challenging he's ever undertaken, he says without hesitation, "This one."

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TagsPiece of My Heart, Bert Berns, Off-Broadway, Musical, musical theater, Zak Resnick, Signature Theatre