Twist and Shout | Helen Eisenbach

August 1, 2014 10:56 PM

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Twist and Shout | Helen Eisenbach

What is to be done about the biographical musical? A play like Passing Strange showed it could be its own unique animal: reveling in messy individuality rather than trying to tidy up its subject's story, the 2008 musical captured the texture of a singular life far more satisfyingly than had it followed the earnest traditions of the genre. Yet bio-musicals keep turning to the same reductive formula, songs dovetailing with simplified plot points to guarantee maximum accessibility. Accuracy is tossed out the window along with nuance, leaving audiences to either suspend reason and swallow sagas whole, or watch at a remove, uncertain which parts are (sort of) true, and which are fabricated to hit those bullet points deemed essential to commercial success.

Piece of My Heart, the play now attempting to rescue songwriter Bertrand Russell ("Bert") Berns from obscurity at the Signature Center's pleasing Pershing Square outpost, battles this conundrum, and itself: its odd, potentially fascinating story is hampered by a trumped-up plot motor and the shoehor...

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