‘Madam Secretary’ actor Erich Bergen moonlights in cabaret
A few things you should not expect from the cabaret show by Erich Bergen, longtime “Jersey Boy”:
“I don’t do vocal gymnastics, I don’t riff like crazy and I don’t rock out,” Bergen explained.
Furthermore, “I don’t want to walk on stage with a plaid buttoned-up shirt and a pair of jeans,” said Bergen, smiling. “I want to walk out there with a sparkly jacket. Why would you not?”
Bergen spent a year on the road playing Bob Gaudio in the national tour of the Tony-winning musical about the rise of the Four Seasons, another two playing Gaudio in Las Vegas and reprised the role in the 2014 movie adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood. But in his show at the Catalina Bar & Grill Thursday and Friday, he summons other showmen.
“I put on a show. My heroes were Peter Allen, Barry Manilow, Elton John and Billy Joel,” he said. “I want people to feel fantastic when they come see it. I want people to get dressed up. I want people to pay whatever the price is and know that their money was put to good use. It’s got to be a party. There’s nothing worse for me than an evening of depressing folk songs.”
Bergen, who began performing cabaret at the age of 17 in his native Manhattan, sings standards from the Great American Songbook, material he’s written for his albums and selections from “Jersey Boys.”
He wanted to be involved in show business since he was a little boy and he didn’t care how. “And I don’t still care,” he said. “If my next gig involves taking tickets, I’m thrilled to do that.”
Not that you’ll seek the lanky 29-year-old with charm to spare taking tickets at the Ahmanson Theatre or at your local multiplex any time soon.
He is a regular on the hit CBS drama series “Madam Secretary,” and during the show’s summer hiatus Bergen is returning to the concert stage.
Bergen performed in concert earlier this year in San Diego and visits the Catalina accompanied by musical director Michael Orland, a 10-piece band and backup singers.
John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” and starred in the film, said Bergen “knows how to charm” an audience in concert.
“Of course, you can’t get cast in live musical shows at the highest level if you don’t have a great voice,” Young wrote in an email interview. “But it’s knowing how to draw the audience in and involve them in the story of each song that makes performers like Erich stand out.”
An only child, Bergen wasn’t interested in movies and “other things for kids of the 1980s. I didn’t care for ‘The Goonies.’”
He wanted to be in a glittery jacket with white socks and black shoes like his idol Michael Jackson. “I wanted my life to be an MTV video,” he recalled.
Bergen’s life changed in 1996 when his parents enrolled him in the famed performing arts summer camp Stagedoor Manor in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. He attended every summer for six years.
“That’s where I learned everything,” he said. “The friends I met at the Stagedoor Manor are still my go-to friends. They are my brothers and sisters.”
His first big break was the “Jersey Boys” tour, which played the Ahmanson in 2007.
The Times’ theater critic, Charles McNulty, singled out Bergen as the musical’s “breakout star. His charisma feeds off the spotlight.”
After a year on tour, Bergen was asked to open the Las Vegas production in 2008. “I did the show for almost two years,” said Bergen. “I had an amazing time in Las Vegas.”
Until he was fired. Though Bergen said he was never given an official explanation for his dismissal, he said the producers weren’t wrong for giving him his walking papers.
“I think I lost sight of the work and got excited about the potential for work,” he said. “I started to take meetings and auditioned for things in L.A. I missed shows.”
When he was cast as Gaudio in the film, Bergen noted, “it was, like, ‘You are letting me back in the kingdom.’”
The “Jersey Boys” movie was not a commercial or critical success. “I am very aware it was a flawed movie. With that said, ‘Jersey Boys’ gave me a career,” he said.
“Clint Eastwood gave me a chance. Nothing will ever change the experience of getting a phone call saying Clint Eastwood wants you to star in his new movie.”
Bergen received the script for the pilot of “Madam Secretary” before “Jersey Boys” was released June. He plays Blake, an assistant to Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni), a CIA analyst and professor who is suddenly named secretary of State.
Executive producer Lori McCreary said in an email interview that “as soon as he opened his mouth we knew he was our Blake.”
Bergen, who has over 16,000 Twitter followers, is the set’s “Internet information guru,” said McCreary. “And he’s always ready to bring levity to any situation.”
His character evolved during the season.
“At the beginning, the role was written as a generic assistant who was eager to please and very Kennedy-esque,” said Bergen. “But what I brought to it was sort of a touch of snark. I think Barbara Hall, the creator of the show, saw where my natural instincts were and decided to have fun.”
Erich Bergen — Live!
Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Tickets: $25-$40; VIP seating is $50
Info: (866) 468-3399, https://www.ticketweb.com
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