That’s what happened to Jacob Berger after working in the theater as a youngster. After a 10-year break he yearned once again to experience the proverbial greasepaint and crowds. The 2012 world premiere of Fannie Lou was among his return engagements to the stage, and he’ll be back with the production for the Feb. 24 performance of “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou: On Broadway” at the August Wilson Theatre.
“I grew up doing musical theater with TADA! Theater,” recalled Jacob, a lifelong New Yorker, about the award-winning youth theater and arts education entity. “I think I’ve always been a very creative person. I get great joy in entertaining people.”
Jacob plays the role of The Reporter in “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou: On Broadway.” The work features selected music and dialogue from the new original musical Fannie Lou, inspired by the life of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. It is being offered as a one-night-only special event in honor of Black History Month.
Mrs. Hamer grew up impoverished in rural Mississippi, and did not get past the sixth grade because of racial prejudice. Jacob, who is from an upper middle class white Jewish family, was afforded many privileges that evaded people like Mrs. Hamer. Yet, he said, he can identify with her and with the themes in Fannie Lou, which tells the story of the struggle for voting rights from different perspectives.
“It’s about civil rights and injustice, and the racial issues are important for people to know about,” Jacob said.
Jacob has a penchant for delving into – and trying to help improve – the people’s individual and social circumstances. He majored psychology at the University of Buffalo, then earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. He worked in the field for a while, but got laid off in 2010.
He was ready for a change.
“I got tired of the bureaucracy,” he said. “I liked helping people, but there’s a lot that weighs you down.”
He began to turn back to acting. Gigs included commercials and MCing children’s parities. A 2011 rap parody video in which he portrays a “New York City Jew from the ’hood” went viral. Around that time Jacob decided he ought to turn back to his first love: performing.
“I reassessed my life, and that’s when I made the decision,” he recalled. And he doesn’t just want to act. He wants to act well. To help him do that, he’s learned to shun the kind of pettiness that can derail even the best-laid plans.
“I avoid the negative attitudes,” he said, adding, “I hope to leave a legacy behind. I want people to say, ‘You remember that Jacob Berger? He was good.’”
The 28-year-old said he’s much more determined to stick with his artistic goals this time around. He said he’d like to work in “all types of mediums, from theater to TV.”
“At 28 there’s lots of time, but I’m very focused,” Jacob said, adding, “Fannie Lou is one of the first theater pieces I did once I started acting again. I really enjoyed the experience. I think it touches on a lot of social issues. It enriched me.”
Jacob said he’s looking forward to reprising his role of The Reporter on Feb. 24.
“Having the experience to perform on Broadway is a dream come true,” he said. “Not many actors can say they have the privilege of working on Broadway. It’s surreal.
“I’m just happy to be on board,” Jacob added. “It’s also a testament to, you never know where life will take you.”
Don’t miss Jacob in “Scenes and Songs from Fannie Lou: On Broadway,” Feb. 24 at the August Wilson Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets, visitwww.fannieloumusical.com.