"Piece of My Heart," jukebox bio about Bert Berns, who...

"Piece of My Heart," jukebox bio about Bert Berns, who wrote a lot of '60s hits and died young and being sold as the "most famous composer you never heard of", at Signature Theater. Pictured, from left: Derrick Baskin, Zak Resnick and Bryan Fenkart Credit: Jenny Anderson

"Piece of My Heart" review: The rock and roll mystery remains

Quick quiz. Who wrote "Twist and Shout?" Anybody? How about who wrote "Piece of My Heart?" "Cry Baby?" "Hang on Sloopy"? "Tell Him"? "I Want Candy"?

Give up? You are not alone. As we learn in "Piece of My Heart," a modest new jukebox musical, these songs, stamped on young '60s psyches with the force of a demographic branding iron, were written by a Jewish guy from the Bronx named Bert Berns. He wrote more than 50 hits in seven years, then died in 1967 at 38, his heart damaged from rheumatic fever when he was a teen.

It is a good story, an unknown story and a worthy addition to rock history. What it is not, alas, is more than a middling, earnest bio-musical produced by two of his adult children. The music is infectious, the singing and dancing are up to the legacy. But Daniel Goldfarb's book, no doubt true to the heirs' intentions, is a mysterious jumble of too much information, copious grudges and not enough answers.

The overly long plot is told through the eyes of his daughter (Leslie Kritzer), a struggling songwriter and a bit of a mope who discovers that her mother (Linda Hart) had always lied about their father. Why? Despite director Denis Jones' lucidly staged flashbacks, it is hard to know and harder to know why Berns' name has never shared a fraction of his songs' fame.

Zak Resnick makes an engaging Bert, whose experiences with gangsters, Castro's Cuba and Atlantic Records are retold without psychological insight.

A biography has been written, and a documentary and a movie are in the works. Soon people will know his name. More than that remains to be seen.

WHAT "Piece of My Heart"

WHERE Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

INFO $31.50-$99.50; 212-244-7529; pieceofmyheartmusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Modest musical about major rock and roll mystery.


"Pageant" review: Tacky, tiresome revival

Is there anything left to wink at in the overly spoofed history of beauty contests? There apparently was in the early '90s, when "Pageant" became a downtown and then an offbeat international hit by dressing men up as the female contestants.

So here they are again in a good-natured, old-hat revival directed by Matt Lenz with seriously authentic tacky costumes by Stephen Yearick. The contestants are game, especially in the talent competition, but the targets could not be broader. Judges, selected from the audience, vote the winner. It is hard to remember, but once, long ago, that probably seemed new, too.

WHAT "Pageant"

WHERE Davenport Theatre, 354 W. 45th St.

INFO $49.50-$79.50; 212-239-6200; pageantmusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Beyond -- that is, beneath -- satire.

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