"I went from giving a piece of my mind to giving a piece of my heart," chuckled de'Adre Aziza during a quick break from the new musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, which opened July 21 at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center.
In the Denis Jones-helmed show, the life and songs of legendary songwriter Bert Berns is explored in a book crafted by Daniel Goldfarb. Aziza, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her 2008 Broadway debut in Passing Strange, portrays Berns' first love Candace Carmichael — an older, wiser and more sophisticated seductress who sweeps him off of his feet. The couple's racial differences are what initially bring them together but also ultimately tear them apart.
True oldies-but-goodies music buffs know of Berns' masterful contributions to rock and roll's canon of hits during the 1960s. The New York City native, who died at the age of 38, created a seemingly endless parade of hit songs including "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him," "I Want Candy," "Hang on Sloopy," "Cry Baby" and "Piece of My Heart" — which became a signature song of Joplin's.
The multifaceted theatre where Piece of My Heart is playing through August is only a few blocks west of Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, where Aziza was last seen starring in the critically acclaimed but ill-fated musical A Night With Janis Joplin. The Randy Johnson-directed bio-musical loosely followed the career trajectory of Joplin while also showcasing the singers who greatly influenced her including Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith, Etta James, Odetta and Nina Simone. Aziza, NaTasha Yvette Williams ( Porgy and Bess), Taprena Michele Augustine ( The Book of Mormon), Allison Blackwell ( Porgy And Bess) and Broadway newcomer Nikki Kimbrough portrayed those great legends of jazz, blues and soul. After the Broadway show shuttered Feb. 9, it was later announced to continue Off-Broadway at New York City's Gramercy Theater. And then just two days before the revival was to start performances, the production was scrapped. "I know a stankin' rotten fish when I taste one, I don't care how much you bathe it in OldBay," Aziza mused on Facebook while blasting the show's producers for leading the cast and creative team of the show to despair.
"In whose accounting meeting was it decided that a show that lost so much money on Broadway would be just fine off-OFF-east-off Broadway in a day and age where Broadway shows that pull in $800,000 a week or less are sometimes seen as failures? Please explain," the Teaneck, N.J.-reared firebrand continued in an open letter chastising the show's decision makers.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Even though Aziza, who has been associated with Piece of My Heart for close to five years (through workshops and readings), didn't sign on for the Gramercy reboot of A Night With Janis Joplin, she said she took a stand for her friends who were involved in the show. "I mean, the reason I did it is that I was really hoping that if anybody else was going to try it like they tried it, that they would maybe just think twice because these actors are human beings, they have lives, they have families and we should be more careful and more considerate when we're making business decisions behind closed doors that they are not privy until the last minute.
"I mean, things like this happen all the time," she continued. "The thing with theatre is that there is definitely a lot of love in the community. It's definitely a nurturing and loving place, but what I think a lot of actors forget sometimes is that it's still corporate America and it's still part of a capitalistic society where there will always be a bottom line. However, because it's such a small community and we run into the same producers over and over again, there really should be a point where producers and actors could kind of come together and say, 'This is what we expect of each other' and 'We're going to have a kind relationship with each other.'"
Aziza had no reservations about possibly being blacklisted from the theatre world for speaking out: "Ummm, I did not really care. Because here's the thing with my life: It's kind of like the Frank Sinatra song 'That's Life' when he runs through everything he's been. I can't be concerned with what other people think whether they are producers or whether they are other actors. When something is heavy on my spirit, I have to express that whether it's art or whether it's something controversial. I really do not care... But I say, if this is the end of this career, than so be it. "
On a lighter note, the rabble-rousing New York University's Tisch School of the Arts alum said the irony that she's currently starring in a musical about a man who penned one of Joplin's biggest hits is "crazy."
"All I can do is laugh because I think there's obviously something with these songs or the creative people behind these songs that has just found its way into my life and our paths have crossed and it's really interesting," she added. "To me, it's like a daily mystery I try to solve. I wonder if my great, great, great grandfather knew Janis Joplin's ancestors in some way and stuff like that." "But if you really think about it, we're all related in certain ways, and I'm fascinated by ancestry shows and stuff like that so I don't doubt that there's some special connection that I may be missing but hey, I'm glad I'm in it."