Bringing the songs
Harrison Berg Presents confirms collaboration between friends
When pianist/musical composer Michael Allen Harrison and Rabbi Alan Berg team up, it can mean only one thing: beautiful music with deep meaning.
To this end, the longtime friends have launched Harrison Berg Presents, a company dedicated to producing fine musical programs that leave audiences with feelings of hope and a song in their heart.
The men have established a strong reputation for impressive collaborations. Their first musical production was "Crossing Over: A Musical Haggadah," produced in 2011. Harrison considers "Crossing Over" to be one of his "greatest achievements as a composer." Inspired by his father's dream for him to make a significant contribution to the Jewish community and all communities of faith, the multi-media production is a musical interpretation of the Exodus from Egypt and a story of redemption and freedom, allowing audiences "a deep, meaningful experience as we awaken our spirits this spring."
Their second collaboration was an adaptation of Frank Capra's classic film "It's a Wonderful Life," which Stumptown Stages premiered in Portland in 2012. The production was an instant hit and multi Portland Area Musical Theater Awards (PAMTA) winner, capturing Best Original Score, Best Original Song and Outstanding New Musical.
"It's the classic well-loved story presented in a musical way," Berg said.
"Alan and I believe it is music that makes the production memorable," Harrison said. "We aren't creating a new story, it's a favorite of all time. We're just making it interesting with successful scores."
"Great melodies always sound familiar," Berg said. "And we all feel connected to the story — we all live a little on the edge (like George Bailey on the bridge)."
Harrison and Berg's award-winning scores and songs are memorable, fun and powerful. They plan on licensing them to professional, high school and community theater groups for production in 2018. The success of these productions will fund their ultimate goal, which is to produce their latest production, "Soul Harmony" on professional stages in New York.
"Soul Harmony" received PAMTA Awards in 2015 for Best Score, Best New Musical, Beat Orchestrations and Best Song — more awards than "Wonderful Life." With book and lyrics by Berg and Janet Mouser, and music and lyrics by Harrison, "Soul Harmony" is an original musical about the music that gave birth to rhythm and blues. It tells the story of the unlikely partnership between Deborah Chessler, a young Jewish woman, and a dynamic black male vocal group called Sonny Til and the Orioles, who gave birth to a new genre of music that ignited a generation. "Soul Harmony" is the story of the group's rise to fame and the role they and their music played in challenging segregation in the American South. The show premiered with Stumptown Stages to sold-out audiences.
Harrison and Berg plan to reopen "Soul Harmony" this spring and then take it on tour through the East Coast cities featured in the show, including Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis and culminating with a multi-week run at the historic Apollo Theater in New York, where The Orioles forever changed R&B performances.
"We have three meaningful shows which give people hope," Berg said. "With Michael we get focused content and quality. Taking 'Soul Harmony' to New York matters. I do this because I love music, and nobody does it better than Michael."
In addition to the three major productions, the men are working on other musicals, all aimed to building their reputation for quality content.
"As we build our national reputation for quality content we can roll out some of other works," Berg said. "'Wonderful Life' is the path to make that happen."
To learn more about Harrison Berg Presents, visit michaelallenharrison.com.