Madame Secretary's Erich Bergen on the brand new musical sensation Boop!
Wed. December 20, 2023 by Matt Inawat
Stories are stories, but we have to tell stories that represent people in ways that are beneficial to people
Erich Bergen originates the role of comical "meanie" Raymond in the brand new "Boop! The musical," which opened at Broadway In Chicago’s CIBC Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.). Bergen is best known for his portrayal of Blake Moran in the CBS television series "Madam Secretary" and his theatricals role as Bob Gaudio in the biographical musical drama film "Jersey Boys."
Bergen is known for his recurring television role in "Madam Secretary," where he played Blake Moran, the loyal assistant to the Secretary of State. His performance in the series showcased his versatility as an actor, earning him praise from both critics and audiences.
Bergen took a moment to chat with us about the new musical "Boop!" which is currently live on stage for the first time for a limited engagement through Christmas Eve.
MI: (Matt Inawat, GoPride) Hi Erich, congratulations on the new role! What inspired you to join the show ("Boop! the Musical") and what was your initial reaction when you found out that you'd be in the cast?
EB: (Erich Bergen) Well I know David Foster and I've worked with David over the past few years. I got to know him through his now wife Katherine. I played opposite of her in Waitress on Broadway, and David's manager, Mark Johnston - who was the one of the producers of Boop - I do a lot of work with him, as well. In my alternate life I do a lot of producing and directing; and Mark and I have done a lot of work together. And when Mark started to work on the Boop musical, really getting it off the ground, he started to need some video work done, to film some initial promo videos of the musical with Jerry and David.
I think it was videos to use for everything marketing to soliciting investors and he asked if my production team could work on it and I did, so we helped put together these videos so I got to know some of the music and the imagery and Jerry's vision for it by producing those videos. And I just loved it, I really did. I thought it was just fabulous and then I saw the workshop of it, a presentation of the workshop in Manhattan and, you know, certainly thought they had work to do but I thought it was really fun and I thought the score was great and that's all I knew of it.
There was never a thought of me being a part of it and then this summer they asked me to do it and at first I was like "you want me to film video?" and they said "no, we want you to be in it." and I said "oh, ok." It was very weird it just kind of showed up one day. I hadn't done stage shows the last few years. I went back to Broadway with Waitress and Chicago, but it had been a very, very long time since I had been a part of a show at this level and really been a part of building it.
Then when I realized that this would be the first time that I had originated a role it was very, very enticing and I've always wanted to work with Jerry. He and I have known each other socially for a while and he is a true visionary and I just said yes. I didn't even really, it was one of those things that was sitting on my desk and should I do this. I mean, think about Boop. Think about Boop. I mean you want to do it. IThen one day I was like, "ok, sure, let's do it."
MI: So Betty Boop is a character that comes with a nostalgaic status. How do you and the rest of the cast connect with audiences today who have preexisting notions of that Betty Boop-verse?
EB: Well I don't know what people know of her preexisting world. I actually, and I don't mean that as a line, I actually have no clue. My knowledge of Betty Boop was very limited. I'm a kid of the 80's and early 90's so Betty Boop, by that point, was kind of a nostalgic figure that I knew from key chains and lunch boxes but I don't recall ever having seen a cartoon of her.
I didn't know her world. I didn't know Grampy, I didn't know these things. I just knew the image of her as a logo. I didn't know anything about her, so I wonder if people in my age range, I wonder if they are the same as me. I don't know. I really don't know. I think if you look at the Barbie Movie of this summer, they had a tougher time because they had to reinvent or play off of what was so known and beloved. I think the interesting thing here, similarly to like a Jersey Boys, is we kind of know about the brand, but we don't really know much or it's kind of like there in the periphery so I think the opportunity we have is not so much a reinvention but to a lot of people this is their first experience with Betty Boop.
MI: And It's going to be a wonderful introduction to it!
EB: I think so. I would hope so. I think she is a really interesting figure of modern art. I love the discussion about her. What she means in terms of American history and certainly what she means in terms of feminism and also at the same time she is just a delightful cartoon for kids. It's kind of like all of these things in one. I'm so curious as to how people are going to treat it.
MI: With the music, the choreography, and the amazing cast, theater-goes are totally gonna love it! You mentioned you worked with Jerry and David before, so what's it like working with them and what have you learned from those experiences?
Boop! The Musical; credit: Amy Boyle Photography
EB: Well I've worked with a lot of directors in a lot of different mediums. The thing that sets Jerry Mitchell apart from everyone is a borderline, annoyingly positive vibe. I have never me a visionary with such a postive attitude anything and everything. I mean he, you walk into that room and even when things go wrong its met with a huge laugh a "wasn't that hilarious, let's try it again." That is very, very rare and it is overwhelmingly welcome because I have been in rooms where maybe I am used to that kind of intense behavior, you know, or throwing things and I'm certainly used to it. I've worked with those people and they also get a great product, but that doesn't mean its fun and Jerry makes, you know, putting on a giant musical is very, very, very hard to get right and the fact that he makes it fun to do is very rare and very, very welcome.
In the case of David, he has an addiction to making things the best it can possibly be. So, David's also an incredibly nice guy, but he needs it to be perfect and he is going to, and, you know, that's what he's used to. He's David fucking Foster. This is someone who is responsible for the soundtrack for a lot, so my God, you walk in feeling the pressure. David's also new to Broadway so David is also in these rehearsals. he also asks a lot of questions which is very welcome. That's a nice thing to have. But the pressure to get something great musically, whether it's a vocal performance or the right key, he's not going to rest until its absolutely perfect. You feel that pressure. He's very supportive and, you know, his name is on this thing and I think he feels that pressure. So it's really, really exciting to work with him. I gotta tell you, for me, the pressure, and by the way, I don't men to say that David is putting on the pressure - this is, it's David Foster. You walk in with the pressure when you know you're working, it's self-made pressure. He's the nicest guy, but he just has a presence about him that he's going to get the best product there is to get and we're going to work until that happens.
MI: What a great way to put it.
EB: And Jerry's the same way, it's just that Jerry's the party thrower and David is the "everyone sit down, buckle your seats, this is we are not leaving the building until this is burning" and it's great, it's like show business royalty. What could be bad? Also, the two of them have always been the leaders of whatever room that they are in. So, it's very interesting to watch them kind of collaborate and hand off things to each other.
And Susan Birkenhead is the lyricist she's no slouch either. She pops out these really clever lyrics and very moving lyrics and she pops them out like a machine. When there's a new song that has to be written she and David would run into the other room and create new songs on the fly. It's not a talent that I can even remotely think about having. I don't know how they do that. So, it's really great. I'll tell you one thing about David.
Once we were learning one of my songs and there was a vocal lick that I wasn't getting exactly how David heard it in his head, and David said "here let me play you the demo." And he plays the demo on the computer and its Michael Buble singing the demo. And I said, "David, normally it's the other way, I'm singing the demo and Michael Buble performs it." So, it's a lot of pressure. It's a lot pressure, but it's so much fun and I think that the opportunity to create this big musical that has all of this stuff on the line it's a lot of pressure and it's intense and everyone's working their butts off and it's exactly what I wanted to do with my life so I'm very, very, very lucky.
MI: One thing I'd love to cover is your groundbreaking portrayal of Blake in the television series "Madam Secretary." That role was absolutely significant in a personal way for the LGBTQ+ community. Can you share any memorable feedback or stories from viewers who felt a personal connection to your character and his journey?
EB: I can't even begin to tell you. It still makes me emotional. The 'Coming Out' episode, when I came out to Elizabeth outside of the car, I think it was the ending of season three. That night and then, of course, for the next month because it goes around the world on a different schedule, so maybe even the next two months, but definitely that month, definitely that week, and definitely that night, the amount of DM's and tweets and Facebook messages and letters to my publicist and agent. The letters that came into me every which way, from people in countries where homosexuality is banned, is illegal, people who would come out to me and say "I can't tell anyone this, but this is who I am" and "thank you for seeing me" it was, I'm kind of glazing over it because you know, it has been so long and I can't remember the exact stuff.
I have a folder saved on my computer of screenshots of everything that I got just so I could remember it. It was, I don't think that it had ever been done. This was a page and half long monologue, truly with no interruption, where someone came out as bisexual by the way, it wasn't, that also was new. It wasn't, the character didn't come out because they were forced to or because they were exposed or they did anything wrong it was because they wanted to.
That had never been done. Certainly not on network television. On a Sunday night with a commercial for Advil and Mercedes Benz right after. That was important. That was really, really, really important. It was moments like those where we are reminded that representation matters on such a deep level, but what it also made me realize was that its just not representation. You can do coming out stories. How many coming out stories have we seen where its someone cheating on someone else and they are forced to come out or they were accused of sexual harrassment or something like that and they are forced to come out. That's not good. I mean stories are stories but we have to tell stories that represent people in ways that are beneficial to people. I'm so proud that that show continues to have a life on Netflix or Paramount or wherever it is, people still stream that show and I still, to this day, get letters. It was something I am very, very, very, very proud of. Not just my character, but the whole show, for representing many different kinds of people and made different kinds of stories and I think the show continues to have a great shelf life because of that.
MI: That touches my heart and is a wonderful gift you've given to many who just needed to see that scene. So talking about specific scenes, without giving too much away, is there a particular scene or musical number in Boop that you are most excited for audiences to see and what makes it special to you?
EB: Yeah, there is, but unfortunately its not a scene that I'm in. I'm bad at self-promotion, Here is what I will tell you, it is a cast of ensemble members who are working their tails off ina way that when I watch it I need painkillers after because my muscles hurt from watching what they are doing on the stage. These dance and production numbers the closer, the end of act one, the beginning of act two and a million other songs in between, this ensemble is so exciting and and ready and wildly inspiring that I always, even in rehersals here in the theatre, I sneak back upstairs and watch the numbers when I'm not onstage. I plan to continue to do so, even in the show, so if you are sitting in the back of the house turn around. I will probably be standing in an aisle watching the show. The production numbers are un-f*cking-believable. And it is a throwback to 42nd Street and Grand Hotel and all of these incredible pieces that make us love this art form that you can not get when you watch Netflix. That you can not get when you play a video game, this is an experience that is visceral and alive and I haven't had this is a minute and I'm excited about the stuff I get to do, don't get me wrong, it's great, it's fun, I'm working very hard and I think I've got a few laps in me but this ensemble is extremely inspiring and I'm excited to watch along with everyone else.
MI: Any fans of Boop, comic-cons, nostalgic icons, as well as great Broadway music and dance numbers will definitely have to see this show! Erich thank you so much for taking the time this afternoon to chat Boop!
About Boop! The Musical
The Betty Boop Musical is playing at Broadway In Chicago’s CIBC Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.) live on stage for the first time for a limited engagement through December 24.
Leading the cast are Jasmine Amy Rogers as Betty Boop (Mean Girls national tour), Tony Award®-winner Faith Prince as Valentina (Guys and Dolls, “Monarch”), Ainsley Anthony Melham as Dwayne (Aladdin), Erich Bergen as Raymond (Jersey Boys, “Madam Secretary”), Stephen DeRosa as Grampy (“Boardwalk Empire”), Angelica Hale as Trisha (“America’s Got Talent” finalist), and Anastacia McCleskey as Carol (Caroline or Change).
The cast also includes Lawrence Alexander (Follies), Tristen Buettel (Bad Cinderella), Colin Bradbury (Funny Girl), Joshua
Michael Burrage (Cats), Gabi Campo (Some Like it Hot), Daniel Castiglione (Yes Day), Rebecca Corrigan (In the Heights),
Josh Drake (Aladdin), RJ Higton (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Phillip Huber (Being John Malkovich), Nina LaFarga (In
the Heights), Morgan McGhee (The Who’s Tommy at the Goodman), Aubie Merrylees (To Kill A Mockingbird), Ryah
Nixon (Once Upon a One More Time), Christian Probst (Bad Cinderella), Ricky Schroeder (Kinky Boots), Gabriella
Sorrentino (Hamilton), Brooke Taylor (recent graduate of University of Michigan), Courtney Arango (A Chorus Line), Ian
Gallagher Fitzgerald (Kinky Boots), Sydney Jones (A Beautiful Noise), Derek Jordan Taylor (student at Boston
Conservatory), Amy Van Norstrand (Holiday Inn).
Tony Award®-winning director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Pretty Woman: The Musical, Hairspray) brings the Queen of the Animated Screen to the theater in BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical, with celebrated multiple Grammy® Award-winning composer David Foster (“I Have Nothing,” “After The Love Is Gone,” “The Prayer”), Tony Award®-nominated lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Working, Jelly’s Last Jam), and Tony Award®-winning book writer Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Prom). Betty Boop, that sassy-sweet champion of empowerment, that spit-curled icon of joy, that songstress of strength, comes alive in BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical, the new Broadway-bound musical comedy extravaganza. For almost a century, Betty Boop, created by animation pioneer Max Fleischer, has won hearts and inspired fans around the world with her trademark looks, voice, and style. Now, in BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical, Betty's dream of an ordinary day off from the super-celebrity in her black-and-white world leads to an extraordinary adventure of color, music, and love in New York City — one that reminds her and the world, “You are capable of amazing things.”
About BROADWAY in CHICAGO
Broadway In Chicago was created in July 2000 and over the past 23 years has grown to be one of the largest commercial touring homes in the country. A Nederlander Presentation, Broadway In Chicago lights up the Chicago Theater District entertaining up to 1.7 million people annually in five theatres. Broadway In Chicago presents a full range of entertainment, including musicals and plays, on the stages of five of the finest theatres in Chicago’s Loop including the Cadillac Palace Theatre, CIBC Theatre, James M. Nederlander Theatre, Auditorium Theatre, and just off the Magnificent Mile, the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. For more information and tickets, visit BroadwayInChicago.com.
About BETTY BOOP and FLEISCHER STUDIOS
First introduced in 1930, Betty Boop was created by Max Fleischer for his “Talkartoons” series, the world’s first animated “talkies” which Max’s company, Fleischer Studios, produced for Paramount Studios. Betty initially appeared as a dog-like stage performer who sang and danced with another dog-like character named Bimbo, joyfully entertaining vast audiences of other Fleischer characters from the animal kingdom. Inspired by the collective energy, style, and sound of the many popular Jazz Age flappers and entertainers of the 1920s, Betty quickly evolved into a full-fledged human character, and by 1932 she had become the only female animated screen star in the world.
Voiced by Mae Questel, Betty starred in more than 100 cartoons, 90 of which are included in the official Betty Boop series, which ended in 1939. Since then, Betty has appeared in dozens of hit movies, television specials, commercials, and was the first cartoon character to be profiled by A&E’s Biography series. Today, Fleischer Studios and their great team of creative professionals, have parlayed the iconic Betty Boop into a worldwide licensing phenomenon entertaining millions of fans and collectors.