Erich Bergen, the former star of Jersey Boys—both its Las Vegas production and Clint Eastwood’s film version—recently revealed in People magazine that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013. Now in remission, the 31-year-old says he underwent surgery and chemotherapy, but speaking to him, you wouldn’t know the funnyman ever had a scare.
When asked why he’s returning to host the second annual Heart of Education Awards, which honors CCSD teachers for outstanding commitments to their students and schools, on April 29 at The Smith Center, Bergen jokes, “Community service for jail!” In actuality, Smith Center president and CEO Myron Martin had asked Bergen to host last year’s inaugural event (“Clearly, Neil Patrick Harris must have turned down the gig,” Bergen says), well before the details had even been hashed out.
“He’s just a really nice and talented guy,” Martin says. “He did such an amazing job the first year; teachers loved him. I just had to have him come back.”
The Madam Secretary actor—the show was recently picked up by CBS for its fourth season—is expected to perform at the event, but the occasion is reserved for teachers and their guests only. But no need to fret: In addition to emceeing, Bergen will perform a medley from the Great American Songbook at Cabaret Jazz April 30 and May 1. That is, if he makes it.
“[Hosting] is my way of paying back the teachers who had to put up with me growing up.” – Erich Bergen
“It depends on how late the Heart of Education Awards goes on Saturday night,” he says. “Once we go past a certain time, I start to have a drink. I don’t care if I’m working or not. We start with a matinee on Sunday, so it’s going to be a gamble.” These engagements are a follow-up to last year’s sold-out run of Erich Bergen LIVE!
“We’re doing some great new songs, some classics. It’ll also include some of the classics that I’ve been doing in my concerts for years, and, of course, some Jersey Boys stuff. I’m going to be doing some George Michael music, too,” he says. “I have some of the best musicians in Vegas. If you hate me—and there’s a chance that you do—at least come to hear the band.”
Cabaret Jazz at Smith Center, Sun., 1:30 p.m. & Mon., 7:00 p.m. Tickets start at $39, thesmithcenter.com/event/erich-bergen/
See more below about the Heart of Education Awards and to hear more from Bergen and Martin.
Five Questions with Erich Bergen
You currently star in Madam Secretary, which recently got picked up for its fourth season. What’s your experience been like?
It’s been great. This is really my first series. I did a couple of guest spots on TV here and there, but to build a show from the ground up and to create this family as you go along, it’s been such an experience.
It’s also very interesting to be on a show that is such a hot topic right now, which is politics. We’re very aware that while we’re making it, while it airs, just a few stations over on the news the real thing is potentially more dramatic than we are. How do we compete with that?
How did you get involved with the Heart of Education Awards?
It’s Myron [Martin]—and Las Vegas has a hold over me. Obviously it has a lot to do with the fact of starting Jersey Boys there all those years ago. When The Smith Center opened after I had already left Vegas, I was so upset. I knew Myron from the Liberace Museum and around so I reached out to him, and started to get involved in as many ways as I could to get out there.
What was your education like growing up?
Last year at the awards when the curtain went up and I was looking at a room full of 2,000 teachers, I thought, “Well, this is my nightmare.” I was a terrible, terrible student. [Hosting] is my way of paying back the teachers who had to put up with me growing up.
Considering you hosted last year’s awards on the fly, what can we expect from you as a host now that you’ve got more prep time?
I’m a bit of a spur-of-the-moment guy; it all depends on what Donald Trump gets into over the next few weeks. There’s a chance that I might have to drop out as host and take over as president. I hear that anyone can do that now. If not, I’m thinking we should do it more like The Voice this year, where it’s a singing competition. The audience should watch the entire show face backwards.
What keeps bringing you back to Vegas?
I have a great time. I get to see old friends, I get to do my concert in a room that I think is the best sounding room that I have ever played. The acoustics, the sound design and the way the artists and the audience treat Cabaret Jazz every time you see or perform a show there I absolutely love.
Three Questions with Myron Martin
What’s your response to the first Heart of Education Awards, which took place last year?
The first year was really successful, and we proved that by the community coming together and simply acknowledging great teaching. The community coming together and nominating great teachers can really change how a teacher feels about their career.
How will this Heart of Education Awards differ from last year’s?
I can’t talk about who it is, but we’ve added a keynote speaker, someone who will come up and talk about the importance of great teaching. I don’t doubt that this is going to be something that people talk about after the event.
Will there be any entertainment in addition to Erich?
We usually keep the entertainment pieces a surprise, too, but I will share with you that one of the bands that’s going to play is a group some people are calling the next breakthrough band from Las Vegas, following in the footsteps of the Killers and Imagine Dragons: Brumby! All members attended Clark County Schools. They grew up here. How cool is that that they’re going to play for the teachers and they’re all now alumni?
About Heart of Education Awards
Inspired by an education-focused program created by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., the Heart of Education Awards acknowledges teachers for their commitment to excellence. With more than 800 educators recognized during the inaugural event, this year, 20 winners will each receive a gift of $5,000 and a commemorative Heart of Education trophy. Each winner’s school will also receive a cash prize of $1,000 to be used for a program selected by the winning teacher thanks in support from The Rogers Foundation.