"Jersey Boys" are invading Memphis this week. The musical, which follows the rise, fall and eventual re-rise of 1960s pop quartet the Four Seasons.
I caught up with the four stars of the show over breakfast at the Arcade yesterday morning. From left to right, meet Colby Foytik (Tommy DeVito), Brad Weinstock (Frankie Valli), Jason Kappus (Bob Gaudio), and Brandon Andrus (Nick Massi).
They've been on the road as part of the touring cast of "Jersey Boys" for about a year now. Despite the characters they play in the show, only one of them (Brad) is from New Jersey. None of them are Italian.
On stage, though, it doesn't matter. All four guys are very convincing as hard-scrabble Italian kids from Jersey. It can be tough, though, to play someone so specific without coming off offensive. "It's easy to tap into the Jersey vernacular," Brad said. "The harder part is being Italian. It's hard not to be a stereotype." Jason has an easier time: "My character (Bob Gaudio) is the least stereotypically Italian, so I don't have to push that envelope. I had to put more energy into playing a 17 year-old."
Because "Jersey Boys" spans the Four Seasons' entire 40-year career, in two hours, the cast ages from slouchy teenagers into grown adults with children of their own. And that seems pretty difficult, until you consider that the three women in the cast play about 50 characters between them (fun mid-show game: count the wigs).
(Credit: Joan Marcus)
It's probably time to mention what an incredible show "Jersey Boys" is. The story is great, the music is better, the pacing is fast and the dialog is extremely snappy.
A warning, though – the signs outside of the theatre noting that the show includes "authentic, profane Jersey vocabulary are not wrong. The show is gleefully riddled with obscenities, from the mildest of cuses (the kind you can say on daytime TV) to ones that are a little more heavyweight. Brad acknowledges that the show has caused him to develop a bit of a potty mouth. "My favorite word is ************", he told me. (For the record, Colby's is ****, Brandon's is ******* and Jason's is ****.)
It's noted in the show that bands have a "real family and a road family", and to an extent, it's the same with the touring cast. They spend every day together, with the exception of two week-long vacations per year. All of them are in relationships, but only Jason's wife (who works the show's merch table) gets to travel with them.
(Credit: Joan Marcus)
Fun fact: none of the four main actors in the show had long-time dreams of being onstage. These were their responses to me asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up:
Colby: "I thought I was going to play the saxophone." (He played for 11 years.)
Brad: "I was looking pretty avidly at a career in marine biology."
Jason: "I went to college for computer science and quickly failed calculus. I started doing theatre in college and realized that it was more fun than math."
Brandon: "I was going to be a baseball player. I was getting in trouble in school, but I could sing, so one of my teachers put me in choir to straighten me out."
And even though they're now professionals, it doesn't mean that the show is without mishaps. Brad told a story about forgetting that he was supposed to do a matinee performance of "Jersey Boys" until he got a call from the stage manager half an hour before curtain, wondering where he was. "(Playing Frankie) requires about an hour and a half of vocal and physical warmups, but I got to the theatre in 13 minutes and did the show." In another show, the understudy playing Bob Gaudio blanked on a crucial, statistics-heavy portion of dialog right and ad-libbed "That was 'Sherry', basically the best song ever."
Having seen this cast of "Jersey Boys" in action, I'm pretty willing to declare the show basically the best musical ever. It's fast, it's funny, it's profane, and no one bursts into song randomly. The story is good enough that it would still be interesting, even if you stripped all of the group's best-known hits out of the show.
It's also packed with life lessons. When asked what he's learned from "Jersey Boys", Colby very quickly responded, "Stay out of prison."
"Jersey Boys" will be at the Orpheum Theatre from now through Dec. 16th. Tickets are $28 to $118, and can be purchased online, by phone or at the Orpheum's box office. For more info about the show, go here.