Stage and screen actor will share his story through song
TV, film and Broadway performer Erich Bergen, aka Erich Rosenberg, who’s starred in the hit CBS series Madam Secretary for the past five years, was in Waitress on Broadway last summer and graced the big screen in Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys, will bring his talent to Great Neck on Sunday, April 7.
The actor, who presented a Tony Award, has been bestowed with titles such as best dressed and most eligible bachelor, and was photographed by the famous Annie Liebowitz, will entertain the community, telling his story through songs and amusing commentary, as part of Temple Beth-El of Great Neck’s 90th anniversary gala celebration.
“My concert is a mix of the songs and stories that have been part of my career,” said Bergen, whose music has been influenced by Barry Manilow, Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Motown. “It will be a funny, upbeat evening of the music and stories that have shaped my career in show business.”
Great Neck resident Randy Chaplin, Bergen’s manager, said that the performer is one of the most talented he has seen in his decades-long career.
“In my 35 years as an entertainment agent, Erich Bergen is one of the most exciting singers and entertainers I’ve ever represented,” said Chaplin. “When he performed with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, the audience didn’t want to leave.”
Though just 33 years old, the New York City native has been performing for 30 years.
“Oh, man, it’s all I’ve ever known,” said Bergen. “I was 3 when I discovered MTV. I wanted to be like the top performers of the time. My superheroes were the pop stars of the ’80s. I would do full productions in my apartment starting at age 3.”
From as far back as he can remember, he was engrossed in pop music.
“There was a make-your-own-music video booth at Macy’s and that was my favorite activity,” Bergen reminisced. “There’s a video of me performing at 4.”
Attending his first Broadway show at 10 years old was life altering.
“I went to the musical version of Big and it changed my life,” noted Bergen. “There were a lot of kids in the show and it made me realize that this was something that I could do—perform in front of thousands of people each night.”
That summer he started attending Stagedoor Manor, a performing arts sleepaway camp in the Catskills, which he attended every year until he was 17.
“It became my life,” said Bergen. “Seeing my first Broadway show and going to camp made me realize that there could be a life in performing for me.”
Ironically, the young actor wasn’t accepted into the famed LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, but was always performing with theater companies in New York, such as Applause, and did voice overs on Nickelodeon and commercials.
After signing with a youth talent manager, he was sent on an audition of an audiobook. Though he didn’t get the role, the talent scout also worked with New York Youth Theater and thought he would be perfect for a new music production.
“That was my first time performing for people I didn’t know, and I did it every weekend for two months,” said Bergen. “I stayed part of that theater company for many years.”
The born performer was always looking for places to share his craft, and at 17 would go to open mic night at Birdland, the well-known jazz club.
“There would be people off the street who wanted to perform, plus Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett,” he recalled. “Then, I started doing my own concerts at places like Don’t Tell Momma and Tony’s Skylight Room.”
Bergen went on to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he was a podcaster, interviewing Broadway stars.
“It was a way to get free tickets to shows,” admitted Bergen. “Sometimes, I was able to interview my heroes. The biggest name that we got was Donny Osmond.”
In October 2005, the free preview tickets he received for Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, would ultimately change his life.
“I didn’t really know too many of their songs or their story, and I brought my dad because I didn’t know anyone else I thought would like it,” explained Bergen. “It wound up being one of the greatest things I saw in my life. I fell in love with it. During intermission, my dad said to me, ‘You know, you could play that role of Bob Gaudio.’”
Several months later, he was actually performing as Bob Gaudio in the musical.
“In June 2006, my agent sent me for the audition for the national tour on a Monday,” Bergen recalled. “I had the part on the following Monday. It was the Hamilton of its day. I opened the Las Vegas show and did that for a couple of years. Then, I was selected to be in the movie. Jersey Boys was what launched my career, and that led to Madam Secretary.”
Being in the film version of Jersey Boys was a bit surreal for Bergen.
“I felt like I was playing a video game, a virtual reality version of life,” explained Bergen. “You never think that you’ll be called by Clint Eastwood, film on the Warner Bros. lot or have your name on a parking spot. At the time, it was a day’s work, but I have a lot of pinch-me moments. You reflect on that afterward. At the beginning of the press tour, we were photographed by Annie Liebowitz. Annie and Clint Eastwood are very different politically, you’d never find them in the same room together. What I love about art is that it pulls people from all sides together.”
After the film, Bergen landed the role of Blake Moran, the charming assistant to Téa Leoni’s Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord in Madam Secretary, following a walk-in audition through someone he met at summer camp.
“Mark Saks, a big television casting director for many years, was a camper at Stagedoor at one point,” explained Bergen. “He would come back to give advice to the campers and to scout. When I was 14 or 15, he said he would get me a role one day, and he did. He thought I would be great for a part for a new show. Now, we both go back to camp and give advice to the kids. The Stagedoor Manor ‘mafia’ is very strong,” he said with a laugh.
For those looking to follow in Bergen’s footsteps, he advises breaking the rules.
“The best advice is all the rules that you hear about, the way things are done, only worked for the people before you,” noted Bergen. “That’s why everyone has different advice.”
The actor just finished shooting the fifth season of the TV series, which is filmed right here in New York. His character was recently promoted to senior policy advisor on the show, which airs on Sundays at 10 p.m.—and is seen by an impressive 10- to 15-million viewers each week.
After working in theater for so many years, the biggest adjustment for Bergen was that in a TV show, actors don’t get a reaction from the audience.
“If it wasn’t for social media, you wouldn’t hear what people are thinking,” Bergen noted. “That was something to get used to. Getting the response from the audience is a real thrill. Theater will always be my first love, because that’s where I started.”
As a performer and an artist, some of Bergen’s inspirations were “real performers” like Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson and Fred Astaire. As an actor, he’s inspired by “people who combine comedy and tragedy,” such as Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman.
Bergen feels very fortunate with what he’s accomplished in his career, and looks forward to telling stories that will change lives.
“What I’m after are stories and art that change lives and make people feel that they’re not alone,” said Bergen. “It’s about the art you create and how it lives forever with the people who love it.”
In the future, he hopes to create a television program and star in a Broadway show.
“I would like to be part of the creation of a television show, whether writing, producing or acting,” noted Bergen. “It’s an incredible tool when used correctly, it can change the world.”
Though the actor changed his name from Rosenberg to Bergen at age 10 when he began performing on stage, all of his friends from summer camp still have him as Erich Rosenberg in their phone.
“The audience will learn it all at the concert,” said Bergen. “I love going out to see live performances. There are enough nights on the couch watching Netflix. Put on your best dress and best suit. I promise it’s going to be a great night.”
The concert will begin at 5:30 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30 p.m., at 5 Old Mill Rd. Purchase tickets for $75 at www.greatneckbroadway.com.