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Bringing Broadway across the border: Neil Berg's musical salute makes its Canadian debut

July 5, 2011

By JOHN LAW, NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW, Niagara Falls Review

Neil Berg's long resume makes it obvious he knows a thing or two about Broadway musicals.

So when he decided to compile his touring dynamo '100 Years of Broadway,' he didn't just want great songs he wanted the singers who made them great.

That meant getting stars like Ron Bohmer ('The Phantom of the Opera'), Carter Calvert ('Jekyll & Hyde'), Robert Dusold ('Les Miserables') and his wife Rita Harvey ('The Prince and the Pauper'). It meant sacrificing some obvious, overdone tunes for something more unique. It also meant a leap of faith that the audience would get it.

Result? The number one touring Broadway show in the U.S. And now it's ready for Canada.

"It's not brain surgery," says Berg, whose show starts a two-month run Saturday at the Scotiabank Convention Centre Niagara. "This is how I feel people might refer to me as a musical theatre snob, but guess what? My mother and all my friends aren't. They're the 99.9 percent of the people who pay to see musical theatre.

"They're the public, and I wanted to put together a show that would satisfy the public."

Berg, whose own musicals include 'The Prince and the Pauper', 'The Man Who Would Be King' and most recently 'Grumpy Old Men,' originally conceived the show as something for his peers and colleagues to perform at posh, special-invite functions. With decades in the biz, he had a roll call of "mega-stars" he could depend on.

His problem was a fine one to have - the show was simply too good just to perform for rich folks.

"(I said) why just do it for these high-class, private events? I bet we could tour this nationally and get an even better response. Lo and behold, that's exactly what happened."

Berg realizes it's a concept which requires word of mouth most people assume the show is a Broadway revue with three or four singers performing oldies. Gathering the original singers, doing songs from the original productions, gives it a kick people aren't expecting.

"People don't really believe it until they see it, because that's the perception - there's so many bad musical revues," he says. "These are the actual Broadway stars recreating their big moments. It's not some people singing some hit Broadway tune."

The show is currently on a 120-city tour, and Berg still marvels at what the cast brings every night. Songs they may have performed thousands of times can still elicit chills.

"What makes these actors extraordinary and special is that it's like they're doing it for the first time every night," he says.

"Just because these songs are some of the most famous songs of all time doesn't mean they're boring. They are the most exciting, wonderful songs ever written, and the performers understand that.

"Every time an actor steps in front of an audience, that same combination of people will never, ever be there again."

Berg also knows it's the story behind the songs that set them apart. It's a hard-earned lesson on Broadway you can pour millions into a production ($75 million on the cursed 'Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark'), but without a great story to hook the audience, it won't matter.

It's the difference between a flop like 'All Shook Up' and a smash like 'Jersey Boys.'

"Everyone hears 'musical,' and what do they think the most important thing is? The music. It's absolutely not the most important thing," he says.

"It's the storytelling and how you care about the characters. It's Broadway 101, it's the essence of what we do."

jlaw@nfreview.com

WHAT: Neil Berg's 100 years of Broadway

WHERE: Scotiabank Convention Centre Niagara

WHEN: July 9 to Sept. 4

TICKETS: $29 to $67. Phone 905-357-7008

Left Field Productions
Leftfield Productions, Inc.
2 Catherine Street
Nyack, NY 10960
For Private Engagements:
Contact: Joe D'Urso
email: info@neilberg.com
phone: 845-353-2407
For Booking Information:
Contact Producer: Adam Friedson
email: friedsonent@gmail.com
phone: 510-206-6111
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