NEW YORK (AP) — A musical celebrating the little-know songwriter Bert Berns has gotten some help from some serious musicians — Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer.
The E Street Band member and the former musical director of David Letterman’s late night show have signed on to produce the jukebox musical “Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story,” aiming for Broadway next year under the direction and choreography of Denis Jones.
“Rock ‘n’ roll has always been my passion and this man — Burt Berns — is a sort of an unsung hero,” said Shaffer, who played keyboards and conducted “Godspell” when it first arrived on Broadway. “He wrote so many songs that meant a lot to me when I was a kid. I didn’t know at the time that so many were written by him.”
Berns died in 1967 at 38, leaving a legacy of hit songs including “Twist and Shout,” ”Are You Lonely for Me,” ”Tell Him,” ”I Want Candy,” ”Hang on Sloopy” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” The musical opened off-Broadway in 2014 with a book by Daniel Goldfarb and arrangements by Garry Sherman, who worked with Berns on many of his hits.
The new producing team also includes Joe Grano, a producer of the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys,” and Maureen Van Zandt, Steven’s wife who is co-artistic director of Renegade Theatre Company and who brought Steven to the off-Broadway production.
“Bert Burns died so young, so tragically young, that even within the industry, only the insiders know about him. He was a phenomenal talent. The list of songs was remarkable,” said Steven Van Zandt, who also credited Burns with bringing Latin rhythms and scales to the mainstream.
“It’s a great show, first of all. If it wasn’t entertaining, none of this would matter,” said the former “Lilyhammer” star and Bruce Springsteen guitarist who produced the recent reuniting of The Rascals. “It has to be entertaining first, but if it can teach us a little history accidentally or in the meantime, that’s nice, too.”
The new production is still many months away and no casting was revealed or specific dates.
As a producer, Steven Van Zandt said he’ll concentrate on preserving the integrity of the music. He said that pop music when it’s performed on Broadway often gets sped up, a process he calls “showbiz-ization.”
“I think we’re probably going to defend against that,” he said.
For his part, Shaffer attended a reading of the show this year and said he’ll try his best to “tell the story in the manner that will make Bert be exciting and talented character for everybody that I know he was.”