Jukebox musicals are the guilty pleasures of Broadway and, ever more frequently, off-Broadway, offering well-heeled patrons the joys of nostalgia and the reassuring sense that the songs we grew up on were classics worthy of revisiting. How else to account for the extraordinary popularity of Jersey Boys, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Motown: The Musical, The Million Dollar Quartet, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Mamma Mia! and Rock Of Ages (not to metion the good, if less successful Holler If Ya Hear Me and A Night With Janis Joplin)? Piece Of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, which opened Sunday night on 42nd Street, is a bargain-basement jukebox musical as entertaining as the best of those shows.
But it’s also on an evangelical mission: To make the case that Bert Berns has a rightful place in the pantheon of American rock-music writing legends that includes Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Bacharach and David, Mann and Weil, and Barry and Greenwich.