By Ron Fassler . . .
For a singer, a residency at a revered venue like Café Carlyle is a prized invitation that poses a daunting challenge under even the best of circumstances. But for Erich Bergen, who up until Sunday night was appearing in the lead male role as Billy Flynn in the long-running Broadway production of Chicago, his back was up against a wall. Having lost his voice to laryngitis on his closing matinee, with the full knowledge he was opening at the Carlyle two days later, he was experiencing the quintessential actor’s nightmare. But thanks to Prednisone (which he comically addressed throughout the evening), he opened his week-long gig after only one day’s postponement, and the results were outstanding. No one in the audience would have even had a clue of his recent distress from the sound of his voice, nor his energy level (which he proudly and comically gave credit to the miracle drug). All hail pharmaceuticals!
Bergen, an actor with an accomplished list of credits, is known mainly for his six-season run on CBS’s Madame Secretary. And as a native New Yorker with roots in the theatre, his natural presence is an extra plus to his exciting singing prowess. Opening with the boisterous 50s standard “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” first made famous by Frank Sinatra, Bergen primed the audience for what was to follow. With only an occasional nod to Broadway, his set list was peppered with a variety of music that ended on a genuine high note with trumpet assistance from Brian Newman, recently the bandleader and arranger for Lady Gaga’s Jazz & Piano show during her Las Vegas residency. Their rendition of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River” (honestly, one of the great ballads) was superb. Another special guest brought to the stage for a number was Shoshana Bean, recently Tony nominated for her role as Billy Crystal’s daughter in Mr. Saturday Night. Old friends, they sang Sarah Bareilles’ “You Matter to Me” with sweetness and affection.
One particular favorite was a special arrangement of two “falling” songs. One titled “Fallin’” by Marvin Hamlisch from the 1979 Broadway hit They’re Playing Our Song (lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager), and the more recent “Falling” by Harry Styles. As Bergen quipped, “You don’t get to hear Hamlisch and Styles mixed together too often.” And mention should be made that Bergen is an accomplished pianist, though only chose to do one song at the keyboard. Perhaps this was due to his musical director, Michael Moritz, a strong presence throughout the evening, as well as the other musical talents on stage (whom Bergen told us “are some of the greatest musicians within the Café Carlyle price range”!).
As a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side and Chelsea, Bergen paid tribute to his hometown with a lovely medley of New York songs that incorporated snippets of just about as many as possible. And though “New York, New York,” by John Kander and Fred Ebb, had prominent positioning, my eager ear missed out on other classic tune with the same title from Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Perhaps it’ll find its way into the medley down the road. Another custom-styled pastiche, one that saluted classic movie musicals that inspired Bergen as a kid while watching them on television, was also highly enjoyable.
Bergen was selected to play Bob Gaudio, one of the original songwriters and members of The Four Seasons, in Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film version of Jersey Boys, a role he had already played on the National Tour and in Las Vegas, and chose to sing “Cry for Me” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Both were a joy to hear, especially by way of his crisp phrasing and fine musicality.
With a charm, offensive humorous and irreverent, this vocalist’s got the goods to insure a very successful stand at the Café Carlyle. Having first opened in 1955, this restaurant and jazz club is one of the most intimate and attractively decorated rooms for any artist in which to play – – most assuredly so when showcasing a performer the caliber of Erich Bergen.
Erich Bergen at Café Carlyle (35 East 76 Street, NYC) – Sept. 13 thru 17 Reservations HERE
Photos: David Andrako
Featured Image: Brian Newman, Michael Moritz, Erich Bergen