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Erich Bergen: from the Magic Castle to Venice

September 14, 2010

Erich Bergen helped launch the national tour of Jersey Boys a few years ago, performing in Las Vegas and living 30 minutes from the Strip. “I’d leave home at 5:00, spend an hour at the gym, then get to the theatre where I’d shower and be all warmed up.” 

Unlike the new musical Venice, coming to the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Jersey Boys was pretty much set. Bergen says, “We were pretty much told to stand here, do this, look there, and sing this. It was written, ready to go. Don’t get me wrong, it was a brilliant process, but 3 years later this,” referring to Venice, “is completely different.” 

Bergen plays a lieutenant to a young leader who helps to resurrect a fictional war-torn community. “Venice is completely hip hop, R&B, and rap. This is not a fake theatrical version of rap – it’s real. It could be viewed as being about the Israel-Palestine conflict or Sarajevo or so many other wars.” 

Venice is the next project at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, from the same guys who were behind Clay: Matt Sachs and Eric Rosen (Artistic Director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre is directing. This is a co-production with KC Repertory). “TIME magazine,” says Bergen, “called it the next great American musical.” 

But before Bergen gets fully into the swing of Venice, he’s putting on a one-man concert at Los Angeles’ Magic Castle, more a club act than cabaret. “The word ‘cabaret’ scares the crap out of me,” he confides. The performance coincides with the release of his first solo CD, The Vegas Sessions, which will be available October 1. 

“I’ve done this concert at Birdland and a couple other places in New York City. I did it at the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas when I was in Jersey Boys. I love the intimacy of this kind of entertainment.” 

When Bergen was in Las Vegas, “I talked to a lot of people who were there during the old club acts – the days when you could walk into the Sands Hotel and see Sammy Davis or Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra, and you were hearing the music that was on the top of the Billboard charts in these intimate venues. I loved the style and the music that went along with that.” 

So this is his homage. “And it’s why I chose the Magic Castle – there’s a dress code and an aura that something special is going on. I don’t want it to feel like an imitation or a Vegas tribute show. A lot of it is current music and a lot of it is my music.” 

Does Bergen see himself as a crooner? He laughs. “Depends how much I warm up that morning. I grew up with so many different kinds of music because my parents were so into the arts. My mother was a product of California in the ’70s. She gave me people like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. My father gave me everything from Motown to Andy Williams and Perry Como. Both of them loved Broadway equally. It’s a good question: maybe a ‘modern-day’ crooner if there is such a thing.” 

You might have caught Bergen earlier this year as Hero, opposite Annie Abrams’ Philia, in Reprise’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. You get an idea of his range and ability to delve into what he calls “a whole catalog of stuff. I do a couple of Sammy Davis songs, but even some Britney Spears. I have a sick sense of humor and sometimes scare people with my song choices. I cover many different kinds and eras of music. I’ll premiere a medley of all the famous songs about New York City.” 

Bergen’s music director is Michael Orland of American Idol fame. And, unlike friend and fellow performer Lesli Margherita, whose recent concert included other singers, actors, a puppet, and a story-line, Bergen goes on without a script or anyone else. “I do have a three-piece band, but I go off what’s happening in the room that night and talk to the audience.” 

Among the highlights for Bergen is “a medley of songs that should never be done by a 3-piece jazz combo in a jazzy way – and we do them in a jazzy way.” 

Erich Bergen performs Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at the Magic Castle, 7001 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles.   Non-members get info by e-mailing or calling (323) 851-3313 ext. 303.

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