“I want to be known,” says the magnetic young actor Zak Resnick, playing the part of songwriter Bert Berns. Bert who? Berns, the subject of this biographical jukebox musical, penned several of the best-known hits of the 1960s, including “Twist and Shout,” “Hang On Sloopy,” and the eponymous Janis Joplin signature tune. As a contract writer with Atlantic Records at the Brill Building, Berns somehow failed to achieve the fame of comparable songwriters of his era. His children have dedicated much of their energy to boosting his legend, including co-producing this show.
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story severely boils down many of the fascinating incidents of Berns’s life — interracial affairs, self-imposed exile to Cuba just before the revolution, shady business deals, and a heart condition that killed him at age 38. But Berns’s songs (many co-written), are either intriguingly quirky or gorgeous, even the unfamiliar ones, showing off a stunning emotional range, and here they’re affectingly embedded into his biography. The dialogue might inspire some groans, but the singing is uniformly outstanding, and the arrangements leap into relevance the schmaltzier the tune. I could watch Linda Hart’s Stritch-like portrayal of Berns’s scheming widow all day, and as for Resnick, with his casual brilliance, dreamy voice, and idol looks, it seems a foregone conclusion that he will be known.