Niskayuna’s Zachary Berger was relishing role with ‘Cats’; Tour – including Schenectady stop – cut short by COVID-19

He looked forward to a performance at Proctors this month. But that was canceled. Nevertheless, he's "in it for the long haul."
Zachary Berger with singer Celine Dion after a performance of "Cats" in Toronto in January. Inset: A publicity photo of Berger.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Zachary Berger with singer Celine Dion after a performance of "Cats" in Toronto in January. Inset: A publicity photo of Berger.

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

Zachary Berger had been keeping his eye on the calendar since December of 2018. On April 28 of this year, he was going to be playing Munkustrap in “Cats” at Proctors in Schenectady.

“I had been looking forward to this since our tour schedule came out,” said Berger, a 2004 Niskayuna High graduate who instead of performing in one of Broadway’s most iconic musicals in his own hometown is instead out of work like so many in his field across the country. “I was pretty bummed, but the country comes first. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

The national touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s seven-time Tony Award winner in 1982 was scheduled to run for six days at Proctors beginning later this month. Berger, who earned his musical theater degree from Carnegie-Mellon in 2009, had been a part of the ensemble for nearly a year before getting his chance to play one of the principle characters about four months ago.

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“I was covering Munkustrap for a while and then I got bumped up to do him for the last six months of the tour,” said Berger. “Well, I got to do him for a couple of months, but now I’m home trying to escape the coronavirus. They haven’t officially cancelled the whole tour yet but the way it looks I don’t know. We’re on hold, and no one knows what’s going to happen,”

Berger has been a busy professional actor for 10 years now based in New York City. He’s currently back home with his parents in Niskayuna riding out the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I let my apartment in New York City go because I was constantly on tour,” said Berger, who was also part of the “Cats” international tour that visited Taiwan and Korea. “So it just made sense when the tour stopped that I go home to my parents. I’ve been making audition tapes in my basement and just waiting. There’s not a lot I can do. Everything has stopped.”

While growing up in Niskayuna, Berger says he never imagined doing anything else but being a musical theater performer. He took dance lessons from the Orlando School of Dance in Schenectady as a young boy, and had voice lessons from Patty Wilcox before she eventually moved out of the area. He also was taught the piano by Veronica Bartholic, who passed away in 2017.

“I have to attribute a lot of my success to the Orlando School,” said Berger, referring to the Schenectady-based dance school founded by Orlando Pigliavento and now run by his daughters, Michelle and Debbie, “They were wonderful, and I still call Debbie and ask her for advice. I always loved singing and dancing, and while I did a lot of work I think I was a natural. Acting? I didn’t really learn how to act until I went to Carnegie-Mellon.”

Before signing on with the “Cats’ tour, Berger was playing Ted in “Holiday Inn” outside of Ottawa. He has also performed as Freddy in “My Fair Lady” in Wakefield, Rhode Island, and was also Billy in “42nd Street in Sacramento, California.

“I came to New York right after graduating from Carnegie-Mellon and within a few months I  had my first job,” said Berger, who includes performing with the off-Broadway production of Dan Savage’s “The Kid” among his highlights. “In terms of commercial stuff I’ve done. I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished with ‘Cats.’ I’ve loved it so much because when I leave the stage at night I really feel like I’ve worked. I’m tired, I’m sore. It takes a few hours before the show to put your makeup on and warm up, and then it’s very physically demanding. You’re constantly on stage. You can’t do it half-assed. You have to give the role your all or no one will believe you’re a cat. It’s a real workout.”

Berger, who performed on the Schenectady Light Opera Company stage and with the New York State Theatre Institute, said his appearance at Proctors wouldn’t have been his first. In 2013 he was part of the ensemble of “Hello Dolly!” with Sally Struthers.

“She was so much fun, and a very loving person,” Berger said of Struthers. “I’ve been lucky because I’ve worked with some great people and great directors. But I was really looking forward to playing Proctors in one of the lead roles. But like my parents, who have always been supportive of me, tell me, ‘you’re in this for the long haul.’ So maybe I’ll have another opportunity in the future.”

The outlook at local venues

While “Cats” has been rescheduled for the 2022 season, Proctors CEO Philip Morris and his staff continue to revamp a season they hope will kick back in sometime this summer.

“While not all of our events over the next few months have been officially postponed, we don’t expect to host any events before June or July,” said Morris.

Two other venues under the Proctors’ umbrella, Capital  Repertory Theatre in Albany and Universal Presrvation Hall in Saratoga Springs, will also be dark until sometime this summer.

In Schenectady, the Schenectady Civic Players have rescheduled a stage reading and fundraiser for later this summer, while the Schenectady Light Opera Company has completely shut down its 93rd season and hopes to commence with season No, 94 in October.

At Curtain Call Theatre in Latham and Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs, both venues have cancelled the remainder of their 2019-2020 season. Curtain Call will reopen on Sept. 10 with “Ripcord” to begin its 2020-2021 season, while Home Made will announce its fall schedule soon,.

The Berkshires

No matter how quickly the COVID-19 pandemic eases, things won’t be the same in the Berkshires this summer.

Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts announced earlier this week it has cancelled its 2020 summer season, while at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield Julianne Boyd said her troupe has adopted a “wait and see posture” for the summer of 2020.

Kate Maguire, CEO at the Berkshire Festival Group, is planning on opening their season on Aug. 1 with a performance of “Godspell” at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge. They also hope to announce a revamped fall season in the near future.

The Egg in Albany recently announced singer-songwriter Todd Snider will perform on July 24 and has rescheduled the following shows: 

  • Garth Fagan Dance: From March 27 to May 29;
  • SFJAZZ Collective: From April 2 to July 7;
  • The Fab Faux: From April 18 to Aug. 8;
  • DeVotchKa: From April 10 to Sept. 25;
  • Mutts Gone Nuts: From April 5 to Oct. 4;
  • Shawn Colvin: From May 12 to April 1.
     

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