It's any wonder Neil Berg has time to eat and sleep. During the past decade, he's written the musicals “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Tim and Scrooge,” “Heidi,” “Hexed in the City” and “The Prince and the Pauper,” the latter enjoying a 14-month off-Broadway run.
Currently in the works are the musicals “Grumpy Old Men,” based on the Warner Bros. movie, “The 12,” a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, “Pollyanna” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
While those projects placed extreme demands on his time, Berg also has contributed music to the films “Searching for Bobby D” and “Goat”; he's served as producer or artistic director of numerous corporate events; he has produced concerts for such luminaries as Michael Crawford, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley and Rita Moreno; and he wrote a jingle for Shock Coffee.
“I'm so fortunate and thankful that I have that dilemma,” Berg said recently. “I never take it for granted. In our business, there are names much more famous than I who don't have the same dilemma. I'm so grateful.”
The project with which he has been most closely identified, however, is “Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway.” This musical revue, which features five Broadway singers, a combo and Berg on piano, surveys some of the musical theater's most popular scores.
Part of Celebrity Attractions' 2012-13 season, “Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway” comes to the Civic Center Music Hall this week for eight performances. The cast includes Sandra Joseph, William Michals, Carter Calvert, Danny Zolli and Rob Evan.
While attending college in Binghamton, N.Y., Berg put together a number of benefit concerts that featured the best singers he could entice into performing with him. After college, Berg frequently served as a pianist for other Broadway-themed concerts and soon began getting offers to present similar concerts at a professional level.
“Things just blossomed after that, and I started doing a ton of those concerts,” Berg said in a voice that readily identified him as a New Yorker. “I started taking the show around the country 10 years ago and was lucky to be able to use people who happen to be the best singers in the business.
“Since I was an arranger, pianist and the person who disseminated some historical nuggets about the songs we perform, people kept telling me I needed to attach my name to the show. At first, I was against it, but it became a way of branding the show, and I was the person audiences identified with. Anyone who likes Broadway show tunes flips over this show.”
One of Berg's primary missions with this production is to hire performers who have numerous Broadway credits, an approach that gives the touring revue added cachet. And while his casts rotate in and out depending on availability, the singers scheduled to perform in Oklahoma City all have strong Broadway and/or touring connections: Joseph (Christine Daae in “The Phantom of the Opera”), Michals (the beast in “Beauty and the Beast,” Javert in “Les Miserables”), Calvert (“It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues,” Grizabella in “Cats”), Zolli (Jesus, Judas and Annas in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and Evan (the title roles in “Jekyll & Hyde,” Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables”).
Narrowing the list of repertoire for a two-act production of Broadway favorites proved to be an immense challenge, especially given the wealth of musical theater tunes that have become hits apart from the musicals that produced them.
“I started out doing things chronologically, but it was too predictable,” Berg said. “I always play to the strengths of the performers we have, which means they get to perform songs from the musicals in which they starred on Broadway.
“Then, I tried to fill out the remainder of the concert with musical theater nuggets that best matched their vocal strengths. If we don't have the right performer for a Cole Porter song, we're going to steer away. My show is not driven by me or the people who live their lives working in the business. It's about the music, and this is really a greatest-hits collection from the musical theater.”