August 14, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Erich Bergen and a ‘Las Vegas Celebrates the Music of Michael Jackson’ Preview!

August 14th, 2009

Erich Bergen is co-producing what is going to be one of the most amazing benefit concerts ever to hit the stage in Sin City–”Las Vegas Celebrates the Music of Michael Jackson” on Saturday, August 29 at 3:00PM at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms Casino Hotel.

Erich recently took some time out of his incredibly busy schedule to talk to us about the major impact Michael Jackson had on his early days, how the superstar has influenced him as a performer, and the phenomenal benefit concert honoring Michael Jackson later this month!

JBB: Erich, when I first heard the shocking and tragic news of Michael Jackson’s passing, I thought of you immediately and how much the King of Pop has influenced you. Tell us about your first memories of hearing and seeing Michael Jackson and what you think really captivated you at such a young age?

EB: It’s amazing how many people have said they thought of me first. My cell phone, texts and Facebook page were filled that day with some really amazing messages. I guess I let people know over the years that I liked him, huh? I think my first memory was seeing him on MTV at age two or something. I was an extremely manic child and my mother would do anything for me to focus on one thing at a time. Putting me in front of the TV while music videos were on was the answer, apparently. At that time, Michael was, of course, the king of MTV and something about his energy captivated me. When I watch footage of him now, I still get that same feeling I had initially.

JBB: Did you ever see Michael Jackson live in concert? What was it like to see your musical hero live on stage?

EB: I did, on September 7th and 10th, 2001. It was two concerts called, “Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Celebration,” filmed for a CBS TV special that aired that November. Everyone and their mom was there–Broadway’s own Shoshana Bean sang backup! It was one of those surreal moments that I couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing. I was very still, very quiet the whole time I was watching. I didn’t want to take my eyes off it for one second. Michael wasn’t at his best, but the magic was still there and best of all, I can say ‘I saw him live.’

JBB: Do you think your love of Michael Jackson is what led you into becoming a performer?

EB: Without a doubt. Not just Michael, but the other artists that I learned about from studying Michael as well. But it was certainly MJ that taught how me how to dance, how to own a stage.

JBB: You’ve been playing Bob Gaudio for nearly three years. How do you think your love for the King of Pop influences your portrayal of Gaudio every night on stage?

EB: My God, three years. I remember doing my first interview for you guys back in my old apartment when we were still in rehearsals!

It was because of Michael that I knew what things were in a recording studio, and how to sing in a microphone in a studio. I learned all that from watching behind the scenes footage of him, especially “We Are The World.” There are still moments in Jersey Boys when, for instance, Frankie and I are in the recording studio that I think back to the way Michael titled his head up to the mic a certain way. It’s little things like that. Plus, the thrill of rising up out of the stage is a very “Michaelesque” effect. I still get chills doing that every night.

JBB: Fans are eagerly awaiting the upcoming “Las Vegas Celebrates the Music of Michael Jackson” benefit concert on August 29, which would have been the superstar’s 51st birthday. How did you come up with such a great idea and what does it take to produce such an incredible tribute?

EB: Haha. Well, it takes a village, except in this case, I don’t have a village. I was still so in shock after Michael died that the only thing I knew how to do was do something about it, and the best way to honor him was to celebrate his art. Originally, I just thought a bunch of us over at the Liberace Museum doing an evening of his music would be great, but within days, it went from 90 seats to 2,200 seats. After seeing how many people wanted to take part in this thing, I started looking for a bigger venue. My friend Steve Friess joined on as co-producer, wanting to help do some good for the community, and within days, literally days, George Maloof had donated the entire Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms to us, along with the entire staff and crew. We were so thankful.

Putting this show on has been an intense amount of work. I literally wake up every day at 9, sit on the computer all day, go to the gym for an hour, go do Jersey Boys, then go home and work on the show some more. Everything from T-Shirts, to Marketing to buying plane tickets for performers…it’s been insane. Thank God Steve joined on to help, I couldn’t have done it without him and that brain of his. That all being said, I’ve loved every second of this work. It’s been a blast. I’m so excited to wake up every morning and get to work on it, truthfully. The hard part is working with so many different artists and all their different schedules, but thank God everyone is just so excited to do it. It makes the work much more fun.

JBB: Everyone is really excited about this tribute, with so many phenomenal entertainers and other surprises. Any chance we could have a sneak peek into the guest appearances and a hint as to some of the surprises fans will experience?

EB: Um, I don’t want to give anything away just yet, but I will say, both the Vegas Frankies are performing in it. Rick Faugno is doing an really stunning dance piece to “They Don’t Care About Us” and Travis Cloer is singing an amazing medley of classic Michael songs, put together by Broadway arranger Jesse Vargas. Of course, as previously mentioned, the four of us will be singing “I’ll Be There,” in a brand new arrangement by Jersey Boys’ Steve Orich.

JBB: It is such a marvelous cause that the Jackson Tribute will benefit—100% of the proceeds will go to Music Education programming in Clark County Public Schools. Tell us about why you chose this cause and the types of Music Education programs students will be able to enjoy in the schools with the fans’ support.

EB: We chose to benefit the Clark County Public Education Foundation because arts funding is always the first to get cut in schools, and that’s just stupid. There are so many studies out there that show Music Education in schools leads to a more successful, well-rounded education. It leads to better grades in Math and Science, and just about everything else. Why are we still fighting this battle? Who in charge still thinks that the arts is an elective? Haven’t we all realized that music is the universal language? Where will our next artists come from if they don’t know what a real piano is, or a real flute? The great thing about Nevada is that most of the public schools have a music program still in place, with funds to pay salaries to these teachers. They need funds for instruments, carrying cases, etc… and this concert will raise $100,000 to help with that.

JBB: “Las Vegas Celebrates the Music of Michael Jackson” is definitely a labor of love for you, Erich! What are you hoping that fans will take away from this incredible concert regarding the legacy of the legendary Michael Jackson, his music, and his life?

EB: That perhaps, for a second, we can look back and say “thank you, Michael.” He gave us more brilliant music in one album than most artists give in a lifetime, and what did we all do? We made fun of him, we took the music for granted, and when it all became too weird, we looked away. Maybe now, we will finally be able to say, “thank you.”

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