On the Phone With Zak Resnick

On the Phone With Zak Resnick

Zak Resnick, star of Off-Broadway’s Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, had just stepped out of the shower when he took my call. Could there be a cleaner interview? Certainly, the rising star lays out the naked truth on his school days at Carnegie Mellon, doing the rounds in NYC for six years and finally grasping the brass ring in his current gig, where as songwriter Bert Berns (1929-1967)—creator of such rock and soul standards as “Twist and Shout,” “Here Comes the Night” and, of course, “Piece of My Heart”—he’s garnered the kind of reviews young actors dream of. So, are Bert Berns songs on his playlist? The answer says a lot about the kind of guy and actor Zak Resnick is.

Francis Lewis: You get to sing all these great Bert Berns songs eight shows a week, do you have any aspirations to be a songwriter yourself?

Zak Resnick: I do, yeah. I’ve written a couple of songs. Someday, people will hear them, but I don’t know when that day will be.

FL: How would you describe them?

ZR: They have soul. They’re all infused with a Latin spice, and they all tell a story in a very, very pop way.

FL: Not unlike Bert Berns perhaps?

ZK: It’s hard to describe how I feel so akin to him. This is a role that really allows me to stretch my legs in a creative way and show people what I’m made of. As an actor pounding the pavement in this city for six years, to finally get that chance … I can relate to his struggles, his pain.

FL: Is he on your playlist?

ZR: It’s funny: He will be someday, but not now. I don’t want what the original artists did with his songs to influence what I’m doing onstage. I’ve actually never heard some of the original recordings of the songs I sing in the show. I wanted to come to my own conclusions, artistically and creatively.

FL: Was that your idea?

ZR: Definitely. We were given albums and dropboxed all the songs. Some actors love, love, love to do that kind of very specific research. I don’t because I know how my brain can be influenced by listening to other artists. I don’t want to feel pressured to live up to what they’ve done or make it sound even at all like what they’ve done. So, if I don’t know what they’ve done, then that won’t happen. Also, I’ve been given a really wonderful gift in this experience in that no one really knows Bert’s voice. I think there are a couple of recordings of him singing, but I don’t have to play to anyone’s preconceived notion of what he sounded like. He wasn’t a performer; he was a writer. We’re theatricalizing that he was a singer in the show, so it’s a great gift that I don’t have to sound like him. I certainly don’t sound like Janis Joplin or Erma Franklin when I sing “Piece of My Heart” at the end of the show.

FL: You went to Carnegie Mellon, didn’t you?

ZR: I did.

FL: Did your education there inform your career?

ZR: I had a hard time at Carnegie Mellon. I felt underappreciated. I felt like the underdog. I felt disliked. I didn’t have a great time. It’s taken me a very long time to realize that, even though I didn’t have the ultimate college experience, I am definitely a better performer today for having gone there. I wouldn’t trade that experience for a different one.

FL: How so?

ZR: I was a real late-bloomer. It took me a long time to figure out how to live my life. [laugh] I still very much feel like I learn something every day. Maybe I always will. I think my hard experience at Carnegie Mellon has allowed me to stay with acting. If I had been super loved and super cherished at that school and babied in a certain way, I think this industry would be even that much harder. Because I faced so much opposition there, it was easier to face opposition here. But, listen: not all six years have been down in the basement. I did Mamma Mia! on Broadway for a couple of years. I’ve done a couple of Off-Broadway shows. But this is really the first time where I feel energies have aligned, and I’m in a place where I should be.

FL: So, when you’re not singing Bert Berns or composing, what do you listen to?

ZR: I love John Legend. I love the Irish band, The Script. Sara Bareilles, Lana Del Rey, Jazmine Sullivan. It’s basically either soulful or the lyrics are incredible. That’s where you’ll get me.

FL: And someday you’ll add Bert Berns to the list.

ZR: Absolutely. He’s already on my playlist, but just the one in my head.

>> Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., btw Dyer & 10th aves., 212.279.4200, www.pieceofmyheartmusical.com, thru Sept. 14

(Photos ©Jenny Anderson)