Erich Bergen became a man in San Francisco. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but when the performer was cast as Bob Gaudio in the touring production of Jersey Boys, he was all of 20 years old. The tour ended up sitting down at the Curran Theatre for nine months in 2007, and Bergen, a native of New York City, celebrated his 21st birthday in the City by the Bay.
He’ll be back in San Francisco for an all-too-brief one-night stand at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko on Monday, Feb. 7. His show is affectionately subtitled: “An evening of music, inappropriate laughs and awkward pauses.”
“That city holds a lot of crazy memories,” Bergen says on the phone from Los Angeles, his home since late 2009. “When I was cast, I had never really done New York as an adult actor. I quit college – or ‘left the company’ as I like to say – and was sent out on the road into that crazy Jersey Boys land. Suddenly it was this world you dream of with fans outside the stage door. Then while I was here I was in a relationship and all these first-time grown-up things were happening.”
After that Jersey swirl, Bergen’s first time back in San Francisco was last fall when he was part of a benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. “You smell certain things, and it all starts coming back,” Bergen says.
Who knows what he’ll smell when he makes his Rrazz Room debut with a show that he debuted last fall at the Magic Castle. Much of the material comes from his debut CD, “The Vegas Sessions,” a highly enjoyable collection of Bergen originals as well as some surprising covers and songs that are, well, drrrrrrty.
The original idea behind the CD was that it would be a live recording of a concert he gave at the (now-closed) Liberace Museum in Las Vegas while he was in the cast of Jersey Boys there. But on the day he was supposed to go into the recording studio to start cleaning up the live recording, Bergen’s idol, Michael Jackson, died.
“That threw my life into total change,” Bergen says. Rather than work on his CD, Bergen began spending his free time mobilizing all the talent in Las Vegas to perform at a Jackson tribute concert – a mammoth undertaking that eventually won the support of the Jackson estate.
“That show remains the most important work I’ve done,” Bergen says. “I got Las Vegas to stop for a day and pay tribute to Michael. To this day, I can’t believe it happened. I joke that I’m still catching up on sleep. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Michael was my hero. He meant everything to me, so it was important to me that we honor him in a really respectable way.”
“Without music education and Michael Jackson, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Bergen says.
When Bergen’s run in Jersey Boys came to an end – he says it was a surprise to him when it did – he returned to New York and listened again to the Liberace tapes.
“That wasn’t me anymore,” he says. “So I figured I’d make a CD that included some of the serious songs I’ve written as well as songs that show off my skanky whore side.”
On the serious side is the song “I Hope You Know,” a beautiful, earnest ballad paying tribute to a true love. Bergen wrote the song in a night, and it’s the song on the album that people tend to gravitate to and the song that will likely go on to have a long life – especially at weddings.
On the dirty side is “Blow Me a Kiss,” a ditty that includes phrases such as “blow me,” “suck me,” “eat me” and “on your knees” combined with comic pauses and old-fashioned lyrics that actually put dirty minds shame. And all you need to know about Bergen’s cover of the Britney Spears tune “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” (see below) is that he introduces it saying, “This song says a lot about me.”
Bergen was supposed to celebrate the release of his CD last fall with a gig at the Rrazz Room, but he was cast in Venice, a new rock/hip-hop musical version of Othello at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in L.A. No, Bergen did not rap in the show, but he says the experience was extraordinary – especially the student matinees. “They were so into it, and that was inspiring,” Bergen says. “It really made me think we’re screwing up the theater charging $100 a ticket. These are the people who need to see new work, and they can’t afford it.”
Now Bergen is back on the performing circuit, amid other projects. He’s also writing music, pitching movie ideas alongside collaborators and keeping quite busy.
At the Rrazz Room, audiences can expect the handsome crooner to deliver an old-fashioned floor show. Bergen says this is not cabaret.
“When I think of cabaret, I think of a housewife in shoulder pads singing ‘Marry Me a Little.’ That’s not what I do,” he says. “I try to give them a great show that’s not about me. I don’t tell stories of my life on the road. I’m really there to share some amazing songs. I take that approach because I’m not the best interpreter of a song, but I’m a really good entertainer. I’m great at giving the audience a good time. Oftentimes, by the end of the show, the audience is having such a good time, it’s like I need to throw a party afterward.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Erich Bergen in concert, an evening of music, inappropriate laughs and awkward pauses, is at 8pm, Monday, Feb. 7 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20 or $40 for the VIP package (signed CD, meet and greet, champagne). Call 800-380-3095 or visit www.therrazzroom.com for information.
Here’s Bergen singing Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”