Piece of My Heart

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Photograph: Jenny Anderson
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story
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Photograph: Jenny Anderson
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story
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Photograph: Jenny Anderson
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story
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Photograph: Jenny Anderson
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story
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Photograph: Jenny Anderson
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story
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Photograph: Jenny Anderson
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story

Piece of My Heart Pershing Square Signature Center (see Off Broadway). Book by Daniel Goldfarb. Music by Bert Berns. Directed by Denis Jones. With Zak Resnick, Leslie Kritzer, Linda Hart. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.

Piece of My Heart: In brief

Zak Resnick stars as 1960s songwriter Bert Berns—who wrote such pop classics as "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him" and "I Want Candy" before his premature death—in a jukebox musical by Daniel Goldfarb. Denis Jones directs a company that also includes Leslie Kritzer, de'Adre Aziza, Teal Wicks and Linda Hart.

Piece of My Heart: Theater review by Adam Feldman

“No one ever knows who writes the songs, right?” says a young woman in Piece of My Heart. “Just who sings ’em.” Correcting that problem is the goal of this jukebox musical, which shares the story of 1960s hit maker Bert Berns (Resnick, likable in a passive role), who died of a heart attack in 1967, at the age of 38. In a framing device that takes up nearly as much stage time, the show also tells of how his devoted adult daughter, Jessie (the gifted Kritzer, in sourpuss mode), saved Berns’s song rights from her deceitful and money-grubbing mother, Ilene (Hart, looking like Sally Field doing Eartha Kitt). Guess which of those characters (and her brother) produced this show?

As a labor of love and copyright control, Piece of My Heart does its job to some extent. Its focus stays on Berns and his family; except in the case of “Twist and Shout,” where it’s a plot point, the performers who made his songs famous are never even name-dropped. (His cowriters aren’t mentioned either.) The glossy production has been blessed with a large, high-level cast whose excellent voices do credit to Berns’s Brill Building standards. The performers include Teal Wicks as the young Ilene, Derrick Baskin as Berns’s singer pal and De’Adre Aziza in the somewhat insulting role of a black bohemian who brings out our Jewish hero’s sensual side. And director-choreographer Denis Jones gives his six main dancers an abundance of exciting moves to keep the audience engaged when the narrative fails. In Daniel Goldfarb’s book, alas, that is most of the time.

It’s not just that the dialogue is gobsmackingly trite. (“You have a sadness that feels at one with my country’s sadness,” a 1950s Cuban revolutionary tells Berns.) There is also a profound awkwardness in how the numbers have been squeezed into dramatic service. This is a show in which “I Love Candy” is sung to a woman named Candace, and “Cry Baby” to an actual crying baby; I’ll let you imagine where, in this tale of cardiac disease, the songs “My Heart Is Breaking” and “Heart Be Still” come up. “If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s that we’re all living on borrowed time,” Jessie concludes. Despite the compelling talent onstage, I want my two hours and 20 minutes back.—Theater review by Adam Feldman

THE BOTTOM LINE The flesh and blood are willing, but the dramatic spirit is weak.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

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