Many of you have been wondering how it’s going, and why I haven’t reported back on how the show has been going. Well, there’s a really good reason: I haven’t started performing yet.
Well, what the heck have I been up to, you wonder? The short answer is, I go to work six days a week, at the one-hour call before every show, and when I'm not rehearsing, I'm watching the show. The longer answer, well, that needs a little more explaining.
Most of you have seen the show, some of you many, many times. You may recall that in every company of Jersey Boys, there are four actors that could play Frankie at any given show. Usually it breaks down like this: the main ‘Frankie’ does six performances a week (which was my job with the Toronto company), the alternate ‘Frankie’ does two shows a week (usually the matinees on the 2-show days), a ‘Swing’ who covers a few different parts including Frankie, but most days does not appear onstage, and the ‘Joe Pesci’ who is a ‘Frankie’ understudy. Here in Sydney, both the Swing and the 2-show ‘Frankie’ were leaving the show at almost the same time, leaving the company at risk should one of the two other ‘Frankies’ get sick or injured. So, JB Sydney decided they needed to fill those two slots ASAP until they could find permanent (hopefully Australian) replacements.
As you might imagine, it’s fairly difficult to find someone to play ‘Frankie’ – with the casting restrictions on age, height and appearance on top of the acting and dance abilities and the crazy high voice. So, the producers did a couple things – they hired the ‘Joe Pesci’ who played the part in Melbourne but had since left the show, a young guy named Bernard Angel to rejoin the company and fill the 2-show ‘Frankie’ role until the end of February. Then they asked me and Graham Fenton, a great actor who previously played ‘Joe Pesci’ and ‘Frankie’ in Las Vegas, the US National Tour and Broadway to come join in on the fun Down Under. I’ll be doing the 2-show-a-week role, and Graham will be the ‘Swing’ for about three months. Then we come back home.
So, since I have played Frankie about 500 times in Toronto and Graham has been in Jersey Boys for about 2.5 years, you’d think they’d just throw us in there, right? As you know, the show is very slick and probably seems quite effortless to the audience, but when you really break it down, it has about a million different details that need to be accomplished perfectly to make it seem effortless. So, if I may get back to the opening questions, that’s what I’ve been doing all this time … remembering the million little details. Getting them back into my body. And somewhat surprisingly, learning about a hundred little differences between the way we did things in Toronto and the way they do things here.
What’s different, you ask? I can’t believe I actually have to answer this question, but, No, they don’t speak with Aussie accents – although that would be pretty fricking hilarious. But they are different people, and different people do and say things their own way. Also, there are four or five scenes that have lines cut here, some of which happen really quickly, so I’ve spent a good deal of time memorizing those changes. Basically, the biggest chunk of my job so far has been simply watching the show to learn how exactly they do things. Sometimes I’ll watch the show from the audience but I pick up most of the nuances from the wings. The more I see it, the more I love this show – and believe me, I totally get why some of you keep coming back time after time to see it.
Another thing that’s slightly different is the depth of the stage. The stage here is about a foot or two shorter than in Toronto. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but when you do a knee-slide down to the edge of the stage, and you miss by a foot or two, you could end up in the 2nd row, so, it is a big deal. Likewise when you’re dancing around the trap door in the dark, a foot or two could leave you with a broken leg or a concussion, so, it’s a big deal. There are also tonnes of little differences in the choreography – from the height I snap my fingers, to how often I pop my knees, to the way I wrap my arms around my body when doing the “Walk Like A Man” marches. So, literally in every scene there’s something I have had to adapt in my footwork, while still trying to look cool.
Musically, there are many slight differences, too. In JB Sydney, they do all Beach Boys songs. Ok, that’s not true. They do the same songs, they just do them in French. Ok – really, here’s the thing. In each company, the main ‘Frankie’ learns the songs and has a little bit of freedom to stylize them. Maybe he’ll do a little lick here, maybe a growl there, maybe a little back phrasing thrown in. Subtle, subtle stuff, because it still has to sound as much like the real Frankie Valli as possible. The reason I mention this is because the sound design of the show requires a fair bit of “doubling”, i.e. places in the score where other actors – onstage or off, male and female – sing along with ‘Frankie’ and the other Seasons. This gives the audience the incredible sensation of hearing the songs sound “multi-tracked”, the way they were recorded by the Four Seasons. So here in Sydney, whatever subtleties Bobby Fox, the sensational main ‘Frankie Valli’ does, the doublers also have to do. And since the doublers are on every single show, the 2-show-a-week ‘Frankie’ has to learn the same subtleties in order to sound in sync with everyone else. So, as you might imagine, these changes have taken up a fair bit of my rehearsal time.
Another thing to realize is there is just not that much time to rehearse when a show is running a full schedule of eight-show weeks. Without getting into overtime, there can only be two four-hour rehearsals onstage per week, and for the most part I’ve been rehearsing with the understudies and swings. In our first week, we were still pretty jet-lagged, so that slowed things down a bit. Then, our 2nd week here there were no rehearsals at all, with the day-off for Australia Day falling in the middle of the week meaning an extra 2-show day. And then, our creative team started flying all over Australia and New Zealand on an audition tour, making rehearsal hours even tighter.
But, it’s almost all over now. This afternoon we did an Automation Tech-Run which went great. Tomorrow afternoon we do a full Tech-Run of the show, which will be my first rehearsal with the other “3 Seasons” Quinny (‘Tommy’), Stephen (‘Bob’) and Glaston (‘Nick’). But, more tellingly, it will be my first run of the show with microphones, with the band, with the lights and with my costumes in over five months. I can’t wait. Then, my first two shows are this Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening. It’s gonna be awesome!!!
Wish me Chookas!
- Jeff Madden
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- A long-time Toronto-area Actor and Singer, Jeff Madden is now focusing on Teaching acting and singing in the GTA. Jeff starred as "Frankie Valli" in both the Toronto and Australian productions of JERSEY BOYS, winning the DORA award for outstanding performance in a musical by a male actor. Jeff is busy back at school, getting his MEd at U of T's OISE.