Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Erich Bergen Drama

As you all might expect, I'm getting quite a few emails and texts asking me what's up with Erich Bergen, my co-producer of the Michael Jackson tribute show last month and now one of my best friends.

Yes, the reports are true: Erich was fired by Dodger Theatrical Productions last week after nearly three years of performing the role of Bob Gaudio in "Jersey Boys" on tour and then since May 2008 in Las Vegas. His final performance in the role, strangely, was on Sept. 9, when the four Vegas leads appeared on "America's Got Talent." He was placed on vacation the next day -- his first in his three years, although there were absences due to injury and sickness -- and then let go while he was visiting his folks in New York. His last official on-stage utterance as a member of that cast, then, was beckoning millions of people to come to the Palazzo and see the show. Contrary to my friend and colleague John Katsilometes' blog post at LasVegasSun.Com, this turn of events was, indeed, a surprise to Erich and to many in the cast.

Because Erich and I are obviously close, I am not at liberty to discuss publicly more than the bare facts as I've recited them. Erich has, however, allowed me to be the first to publish the statement he is releasing to the press:

"While I am no longer involved with Jersey Boys, I wish nothing but the best for the show. It's been my home and family for the past 3 years, and I'm proud all of the accomplishments we achieved together. It saddens me to think that I won't get the chance to perform in the show anymore, but all I can do is look forward. I love Las Vegas with all my heart and am proud of my work there. I won't be gone for long."

All that being said, I have a little bone to pick with my friend and Las Vegas Weekly colleague Richard Abowitz. Richard wrote a very peculiar item for his Los Angeles Times blog about Erich's departure in which he puzzled over why this particular casting change was newsworthy and called it a "media kerfluffle."

You would have thought that the matter was garnering massive headlines or something when, in fact, evidently what amounts these days to a "kerfluffle" was a few exercised Tweets from KVBC's Alicia Jacobs and the aforementioned blog post by Kats. That's it. That is all that has been written or said in anything vaguely related to the mainstream press. In fact, Richard is personally responsible for the biggest and most extensive discussion of the matter to date!

And then there was his explanation for why this isn't really news, that cast changes are routine. Except that departures of leads of major Vegas shows generally don't go unnoticed, even when they're not as sudden and unusual as this. The exits of Tina Walsh from "Mamma Mia!", Sierra Boggess and Brent Barrett from "Phantom" and Elijah Johnson from "Lion King" all received ink, and those are only a few.

Plus, it's odd to me that Abowitz overlooks the fact that Erich's name has been in the papers for most of the time he's been in Vegas, an unusual feat for even the stars of shows with more singular performers. He's been pivotal in turning the Liberace Museum's showroom into a hip place for young Strip talent to jam, he raised $103,000+ less than a month ago for Las Vegas schoolkids in a show that drew massive amounts of international news coverage and he was the mouthpiece for "Jersey Boys" only a fortnight ago on one of the most-watched TV shows of the summer.

When someone makes a name for themselves, we call them celebrities. And when celebrities are summarily dismissed from the jobs that made them celebrities, the public is understandably curious. Fame + Controversy = Newsworthiness. Is it really that baffling?

Of course, I have a personal bias because another close friend is probably leaving Vegas and that bums me out. But I think my news judgment sensor is still intact and some scuttlebutt in the entertainment press seems about right to me for this situation.

I'm also bummed that the closing note of this Las Vegas Weekly column -- written when I barely knew him personally -- is coming to pass far sooner than I could have known. In that piece, I warned the public that they ought to get out and see him when he was small Vegas fry so "you can say you knew him when."

I hope some of you heeded that.


Melissa said...

URGH! Are you kidding me??!! What the..??? I'm so shocked. I'm so sad. I was planning on my 9th Jersey Boy show in October -- every time I've seen the show, Erich has been in it. I can't imagine not seeing him on that stage.

Perhaps its time to check out Human Nature...

So sad....

Hiker said...

Sure it's a kerfluffle.

Kerfluffle — noun. a disturbance or hubbub; a small scale disturbance. an upsetting event

The media's reaction is a small scale disturbance and for Jacobs it's an upsetting event.

Amy said...

Bad timing. I just got a discount ticket offer for Jersey Boys in the mail. I was looking forward to seeing Erich, but until I know what led to his dismissal I won't know whether I want to give my money to that organization.

E C Gladstone said...

As I posted on the LAT blog...:
It seems a bit out of character for a responsible journalist--and Richard is one of the most in Las Vegas--to argue against anything being news. Isn't something "news" if it's a fact, and then "newsworthy" if it is of public interest (which this clearly is, judging by response). The tone of the LAT blog, which is certainly the most national forum the news has received, indicates that there's more behind it, that it has more to do with weighing Erich Bergen's "importance" vs. that of other Strip performers.
It is "news" that Stephanie Jordan was replaced in Fantasy certainly--news to the Vegas entertainment community at least.
It is certainly news that Bergen was replaced fast on the heels of his producing a huge and successful benefit show, and a national TV appearance.
If Richard is accusing a colleague of imbalanced coverage, well...maybe so. Maybe all of us have been guilty of that from time to time. But Bergen's firing is certainly newsworthy.
Further...Anyone who doesn't think Bergen made a significant contribution to the strength of the Vegas JB cast...is someone who's opinions on entertainment I would not trust.

Anonymous said...

This was so sudden and out of the blue. Who the heck did he piss off? Because I know this could not have been because of his performance. Prior to hearing the news of his dismissal, I went to the show and was disappointed when the understudy walked out. Erich was my favorite "Bob" and I'll always miss him. Hope he keeps us updated as to his future projects.

Anonymous said...

you argued that danny gans wasn't news!

are you a hypocrite steve?


Gosh, "anonymous", I never argued that, as you well know. From my own LVW col:

"It’s not that journalists here didn’t want to know and report what had happened to Gans. It was that nothing we could report could be concrete, backed up by any data. Reporters were stuck in a holding pattern until the toxicology reports were completed, because absent of an official report by the scientists analyzing Gans’ remains, no amount of speculation could be credible or based in fact. ... Now that the coroner has made his ruling, the media has certain facts to work off of, and has done so. Review-Journal Editor Tom Mitchell wrote this week that the paper is trying to unseal the autopsy results because the Dilaudid explanation raises more questions about whether Gans was an addict to that or something else, and whether his doctors were irresponsible. Mitchell made that pursuit sound hopeless.

The Las Vegas Sun’s Marshall Allen, the medical writer who had already been digging in on the data related to the reckless overprescription of pain medication in Las Vegas, came back on June 11 with a piece quoting pain and addiction specialists suggesting there must be more to the story. All that is as it should be. If there is an issue of broader societal relevance in the Gans death, it’s as a high-profile example of what Allen has been writing about for months. That problem actually does impact thousands of other patients in Nevada.

But until the coroner had offered his conclusion, Allen couldn’t go there, because had he been wrong—had something unrelated felled Gans—the journalist’s credibility would have been shot, and the stories written would have had to be retracted. Whether this analysis happened on June 11 or May 11 made no actual difference to anyone, except that on June 11, it had the force of science behind it, too."

There is no place where I ever argued that Danny Gans' death wasn't a news story. Ever. I certainly found the appetite for national coverage to be quite light, but I always expected it to remain a local story to be addressed when various pieces of real information -- as opposed to rumor some love to dwell on despite a lack of any actual evidence -- was available.

Anonymous said...

From that same LVW column:

"It’s just a celebrity death. That’s all.It’s a sad and curious event, sure. But a story of consequence? One that impacts the day-to-day lives of anyone beyond the bereaved? No. This wasn’t even a celebrity who liked the limelight. Unlike other celebrities whose deaths were being used as yardsticks-- Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Elvis Presley- Gans didn’t use his self-destruction, if that’s what it was, to market himself."



Yes, you see, this is where keeping things in context is useful, but some "writers" simply are incapable of doing so and that is why they are unworthy of being given interviews or recognition where the proven record is exclusively one of distortion, lies and deliberate misrepresentation.

No, it's NOT an IMPORTANT story, a story of any consequence or impact for most people. That doesn't make it not a story.

In that same piece, I quite logically explain what of the Danny Gans case deserved broader coverage, how the issues involved could transcend his specific case and why the press held back until actual facts existed to go from. I know that's a sophisticated argument and simplistic people aren't capable of grasping such complex views, but fortunately most readers can. Whew!

Erich's case, too, is not an IMPORTANT story. It's of no real consequence to much beyond him and his fans. It doesn't actually impact anyone. I'm just arguing that it deserves about as much coverage as what it's received, especially when Richard was claiming media overkill at a point where MSM coverage consisted of a few Tweets and a four-paragraph blog post.

What you seem to imply is that there are only two ways to go -- either blanket, wall-to-wall coverage giving voice to every idiotic rumor or provably false conspiracy theory or ... no coverage at all. If I don't advocate irresponsible journalism, then I'm advocating no journalism at all? Really?

The rest of the sane world knows there is middle ground, moments and tactics that are appropriate and not appropriate, stories of all sorts of sizes, shapes and flavors. Hours after Danny Gans' death, for instance, was NOT the moment, if ever, to suggest with absolutely no evidence whatsoever that he was having an affair. Just using that as a random example because that's what some desperate loser did, believe it or not!

Sadly, though, even the blurb you took out of context contains no advocacy against coverage. I look forward to your retraction!

Anonymous said...

No Steve, I didn't imply anything, nor did I argue there are only two ways to cover something.

I believe that in a case like the death of Danny Gans, investigative reporting is required, and the responsible thing to do, rather than waiting for a press conference to provide a pat conclusion

Danny was more than an entertainer. He was talking the talk, but obviously not waling the walk.

And, quite clearly, there was a real possibility of foul play.

I made no claims about the significance of Erich's story. I just thought it odd that you felt Erich's deserved so much attention, while Danny's death was off limits.

Thanks for taking the time with your readers.