Pianomen: An Intimate Tribute to Billy Joel & Elton John is coming to West Chester University’s Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall on Friday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 PM.
The musical is presented by WCU Live! and kicks off its new season of bringing the best touring artists to our community. This family friendly event will include two Broadway vocalists – Erick Buckley and Brian Walters – paying homage to and highlighting the compositions and songwriting of Billy Joel and Elton John.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a storyteller, and with this show, I decided to tell the stories behind some of their great songs,” said composer Neil Berg, who produced the show. “It’s an intimate tribute, more like an MTV Unplugged show, where the audience can concentrate on the songs, lyrics, and stories.
“When we did it the first time, people went crazy for it, and it’s become as successful as my other shows.”
The two vocalists bringing the songs to life were chosen by Berg for their passion and knowledge of the icons.
“I wanted artists who have lived these songs, and they are the best ones to present it,” said Berg.
Buckley’s credits include the roles of Marius and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and feature performances in Phantom of the Opera, The Adams Family, and Motown the Musical.
Walters has appeared in Titanic: The Musical, Tommy, and one of Berg’s original productions: The Twelve. Musicians Dan Walker and Brandon Sturiale are also part of the night’s ensemble.
However, at one point in his career, baseball was more of a passion than music.
“I played piano, wrote my own songs, and loved musical theater,” said Berg, “but I was also a big-time baseball player, and when I got to high school, we weren’t allowed to be in two extracurricular activities.”
Berg chose center field instead of center stage, and was good enough to gain the attention of scouts from college programs. He eventually turned down Columbia University for SUNY- Binghamton where he could play ball as a freshman, and became a two-time all-conference selection.
Then fate intervened.
“One day, I was cutting through the music building, still in my baseball uniform, when I saw they were having auditions for piano lessons,” he said.
On a whim he auditioned, and was chosen to study under internationally acclaimed pianist Walter Ponce.
“Then I was asked to write a musical, and after that, I knew I wanted to tell stories with music, so I said goodbye to baseball,” said Berg.
Berg has since written, produced, and performed shows that have entertained countless concert-goers all over the county. By his own admission, Pianomen has a special place in his heart.
“As a kid growing up, the ’70s were very influential and the greatest piano men storytellers were Billy Joel and Elton John,” he said. “With this show, we are getting to the heart of what they wanted to do. We’re going to do a lot of the hits, but as a historian and music aficionado, I wanted to include other album cuts in it as well, those known by the real fans.”
Berg uses a basketball analogy when he describes how his audience contributes to each performance.
“The audience and their memory is our sixth man,” he said. “It’s what the songs mean to them, where they were when they first heard the songs, and all the good times they remember.
“Whether it’s my own work or somebody else’s, I just have a big heart and passion for it, and I’m thrilled that people are loving it as much as we love doing it.”
Click here to purchase tickets or learn more about upcoming performances presented by WCU Live!