All we want is to be ‘believable’.
People come to the theatre for a lot of reasons. Some come to chat and talk on their cellphones. (See my LINK: http://www.jeffmadden.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/the-audience.html). But let’s assume most of them pay their hard-earned money to watch an entertaining story unfold, to understand the motivations of the characters, and possibly to be moved to feel something. The more ‘believable’ the actors are, the likelier the audience will go home happy with the transaction.
So, how do we do ‘Believable’? An actor’s job is simply to communicate a character to the audience. By manipulating their voices, bodies and minds, the actors work together within the structure of the script and the director’s vision to bring the story to life. Each actor’s goal is to allow the audience to understand what his or her particular character is feeling at all times.
This brings up one particular aspect of acting that has fascinated me for years. While communicating a character to an audience, the actor’s goal is not to make himself feel what the character is feeling; rather, the goal is to enable the audience members to understand it; should they then be moved to feel something themselves, all the better. It’s an important distinction to make.
Of course, there are many different techniques that actors can use to achieve this goal. All these techniques get honed through practice into what we call our ‘process’. For me, it is easiest to achieve the goal when I’ve personally gone through a situation similar to the character’s, and can tap into my own actual sense memories to portray it. When this is not the case, the actor must rely on other techniques to plausibly portray the moments in question. I know quite a few actors – many of whom are exceptional – who give almost entirely technical performances and still move the audience.
I’ve always been a deeply sensitive individual. Maybe a bit too sensitive for my own good in this modern world. But I see this sensitivity as a gift. It has made me the man I am today - a husband and father of two beautiful little girls, and an artist. As hard as it is being an artist these days, it always brings me joy to sing great songs, to act in great plays, and to appreciate the work of other artists. That I am able to use my sensitivity to move or inspire others is the icing on the cake.
Let’s face it – I got very lucky to win this role. I may not have grown up Italian, American, or dirt poor, but in other powerful ways, I relate very closely to Frankie’s journey. In some instances during the show I use a purely technical approach. But, as I illustrate in the examples below, when I tap into my own emotional sense memory onstage every night, I feel as though I can access the very essence of these emotions. And if I'm doing my job well, they are communicated to you in a believable way. That may very well be the defining characteristic of my “Frankie” – his heart. Bursting with joy one moment, breaking apart the next.
In my last post (LINK: http://www.jeffmadden.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/jersey-boys-top-5s-5-moments-that-make.html) I talked about the Top 5 things that make my heart soar when doing Jersey Boys, but here I want to turn the tables. I want to talk about the Top 5 things that make my heart ache, and shine some light onto my ‘process’ along the way. And in so doing, I’ll throw some love to some of the great actors I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years in Jersey Boys.
Today's subject: The Top 5 Moments That Make My Heart Ache.
1. Singing “My Eyes Adored You”.
Prior to this song, you watch Frankie meet the Jersey girl of his dreams in Mary Delgado. They fall in love, get married and have a kid before you can say, “Call your mother, you’re gonna be home late.” You watch as Frankie and the band overcome their early struggles to score three Number One hits in a row. Then, the guys struggle with their new-found success and the constant touring, and you witness the toll it takes on Frankie and Mary. And finally, after returning from a successful tour, you watch as Frankie engages in a shouting match with Mary that ends their marriage.
I’ve worked with many different Mary’s in my Jersey Boys days. They say, you always remember your first – and how could I forget ‘Jenny from the Block’, the amazing Jenny Lee Stern. She was scary good. I also had the pleasure of working with two other Marys in Toronto – the lovely and talented Jennifer Copping and Cleopatra Williams, and the fantastic Elise Brennan in Sydney. On Tour here, Mary is played by Lisa Adam, the best actor in the current company by miles. And I don’t think anyone would dispute it, either. She is the only Jersey Girl in all the productions worldwide to be nominated for a best supporting actress award for Jersey Boys. And it was well-deserved. She can be funny as hell one moment, rip your head off the next, and then break your heart. What a gift it is to work with her.
Frankie and Mary had two girls together, and Mary had a daughter from a previous relationship. Frankie was on the road a lot, doing his best to provide a decent living for them all. Frankie’s future certainly looked like it would continue to be full of traveling. They were growing apart. How long would it go on?
It doesn’t take much effort or creativity for me to relate to this moment, being married with two little girls of my own at home, seemingly millions of miles away. I know too well the complexity of feelings involved in choosing to live a life on the road, doing the thing that I’m really good at and passionate about, and providing for a family that I dearly love but rarely see. My heart aches just thinking about it.
It’s interesting. When I sing this song away from the show – in a concert or cabaret setting; even in rehearsal – I usually sing it, in a word, better. More technically pure, prettier even. But in the show, it comes out more raw, rougher around the edges. A bit ‘haunted’, perhaps. At first it used to bother me that I wasn’t singing it as nicely as I could. But then, I realized – don’t fight it. Embrace it. When I sing it in the show, my heart is aching. It’s more believable.
|Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio), Jeff Madden (Frankie Valli), Ant Harkin (Tommy Devito), Glaston Toft (Nick Massi)|
2. Saying Goodbye to Tommy after the Sitdown.
Tommy Devito is Frankie’s big brother. Tommy takes teenaged Frankie under his wing, teaches him about life, about women, and about how to get off the mean streets of Bellville, NJ. For this, Frankie idolizes him. One could argue that Frankie's love for Tommy was only matched by his love for music. As Jersey Boys progresses, you witness their relationship shift– Tommy betrays Frankie a couple times, and Frankie stands up to Tommy, demanding his respect. But the love was always there. It’s a complex relationship that many people in long-term friendships can relate to. Even when Tommy puts the group’s future in jeopardy by his inability to control himself, Frankie still backs Tommy. Frankie wants the entire group to work together to pay off Tommy’s debt rather than sending him to the curb, or worse, into the arms of Norm Waxman's 'people'. Frankie’s loyality and love for Tommy blind him from the true reality of the situation. “You come up together, that’s a promise. And it’s like iron.” Frankie puts up with Tommy’s shenanigans because they are brothers. Blood. Family. And, to Frankie, “Family is everything”.
In my years of doing Jersey Boys, I’ve been blessed to work with so many amazing Tommy’s. Jeremy Kushnier and Dan Sullivan led the way in Toronto, and Glenn Quinn held the reins when I did the show in Sydney. Anthony Harkin has taken control here on Tour, and it’s incredibly fun working off of his Tommy.
I have two older brothers myself, and I love them very deeply. In fact, my life has been shaped as much by them as it has by my loving and supportive parents. I watched them grow up ahead of me, I analyzed their successes and failures, and I witnessed how their separate near-death experiences scarred my family. One brother nearly died in my arms as a result of his peanut allergy, and the other somehow came out of a 12-day-long coma after having been run over by a car while attempting to cross the street. At the time of each instance, I didn’t know if they would make it, or if I would ever have the chance to say ‘Goodbye’ and tell them how much I loved them. Those feeling still stick with me today.
Thankfully, both brothers survived and have recovered to be absolutely awesome human beings. But like in most families, our relationships have faced many bumps in the road through the years. At times, I remember being overwhelmed by my conflicting feelings, wanting the best for them, but being at odds with their decisions at the time. When it’s your blood, it hurts deep down inside.
Blood nearly spills when Frankie and Tommy fight during the Sitdown scene, when all of Frankie’s frustration, anger and hurt that was pushed down for years finally come bursting out. When someone you love lets you down in such a profound way, it hurts so much. And having to say goodbye to them - your family – well, that hurts like nothing else.
3. When Francine Runs Away.
Having to say Goodbye is a recurring theme for Frankie in Jersey Boys. One by one, all the people that he loves leave him, and he must soldier on alone. Mary is the first to do so. The audience catches up with her again in the middle of Act 2. You discover that the divorce has not made things better for Mary. With Frankie on the road and not around, she is left to deal with raising her children alone. When Francine has run away from home and not returned for two days, Mary calls Frankie to come over to the house to talk about what to do. But before long, Frankie and Mary find themselves in another yelling match – Mary, drink in hand, accuses him of being a horribly absent father; Frankie implores her to clean herself up. And then the phone rings. It’s Francine. It’s her cry for help. It’s a crucial moment for her, for everybody. Only, Francine wasn’t expecting the voice on the phone to be her dad’s.
The first time my younger sister ran away from home, it was for two days. She was 16 years old. It was devastating to my parents. An absolute nightmare. I was living at home and going to University at the time, too wrapped up in my own life to see the warning signs. Turns out we got lucky – she came back home, only to vanish again a few weeks later.
Thankfully, my sister is just fine now – she lives with her fiancé and their bouncing baby boy a few kilometers from my parent’s house. But for 15 years, it looked like it was going to be a disaster. She lived on and off the streets, she got addicted to drugs, she hung out with the wrong crowd, and amazingly, she came out alive. Somehow we were blessed with good fortune. There is still a gulf chock full of hurt feelings there, but one that my family has managed to build a bridge over, and move on.
As a parent for almost seven years now, I’ve come to understand that there’s a spark, a beauty, a light inside each and every person, and that it can either be supported and allowed to shine, or squished down only to fade away.
In that moment onstage when Francine hangs up the phone on me, I am left standing there, as my own parents once did, facing the reality that she is gone, maybe forever. Frankie knows he may never see his daughter again, and that he’s partly to blame for this colossal failure. I remember the pain on my parent’s faces all those years ago. I remind myself of the crushing feeling of saying goodbye to my own children. I feel the heavy guilt of my own decisions weighing on my heart.
And when I turn to Stage Left to sing the first lines of “Bye Bye, Baby” and find myself staring into Francine’s eyes, it’s almost too much. Kat Hoyos’ big, beautiful brown eyes, filled with hurt and anger and tears, bear down on me. Then she runs off, and my heart is about to burst. It’s an extremely powerful moment. All Frankie can do is soldier on, and continue to bear the weight of his choices across his slender shoulders.
|Lisa Adam (Mary and others), Kat Hoyos (Francine and others), Michelle Smitheram (Lorraine and others)|
4. When Lorraine leaves Frankie.
He leads the female reporter to a spot at a bar. The man has been wounded, but his wounds have now healed over. He’s a bit gun-shy of her beauty. After all, he’s responsible for an ex-wife and three kids, he’s always on the road, but damn, he’s lonely. It’s complicated. He finds himself talking, really talking. He’s unusually forthcoming. For the first time in a long time, he’s at ease. As he’s talking about his childhood and his mother – his mother - a warmth comes over him, and he realizes… ‘Who is this woman? Why am I opening up so much? She’s beautiful, classy even. Different. Is she bringing this out of me? Am I imagining this? Could I be falling for her?’ It’s a sweet scene.
Lorraine is Frankie’s savior. She listens. She smiles openly. She picks him up after his fall, helps him to stand up and walk again. It's all going well at first. But the strain of Tommy’s behavior on the group is driving Frankie to the brink. Frankie’s temper rages after Tommy hits on Lorraine, and she is awoken. She witnesses this vulgarity, this animal leap out from inside Frankie, and realizes the truth. ‘Maybe we’re too different. Maybe the timing is wrong. Maybe we both want different things. Is it worth it?’
Lorraine confronts Frankie with the truth. She’s right - the relationship’s going nowhere, they barely see each other, and she’s taking a back seat to everything band-related. There's no future in it. She wants out. Frankie is stuck, trapped even. What can he do? He’s made his commitment to the band, to digging them out of their hole, the tour-dates are set, there’s no turning back now. Nothing he can say – not even a half-hearted offer of marriage – is going to change the reality of the situation. He has to let her go. It’s a bitter-sweet breakup – they really care for each other, but it’s all bad timing and crazy circumstances - but it aches nonetheless. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives.
So Frankie says Goodbye again. Watching her turn her back and walk up those stairs crushes me every single night. With each high-heeled step, all the shining possibilities of a new life, a better life, a healthier life, fade into another chorus of "Bye Bye, Baby". I’ve been blessed to work with some fantastic Lorraines over the years. Good friend Elodie Gillet was Lorraine in Toronto, Cinzia Lee in Sydney, and Michelle Smitheram here on the Aussie Tour. They all absolutely nailed it, and it was a pleasure trying to be ‘believable’ with each of them.
5. Francine’s Death.
You’ve just witnessed Frankie triumphantly sing the hits “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and “Workin’ My Way Back To You”. To quote a famous Broadway Mama, ‘Everything’s coming up roses’. Frankie’s done it. Bob’s two new songs were hits, and they sold like wildfire. The years of touring and hard work have paid off – literally. The debt is gone. And to top it off, Frankie is feeling good. He’s even getting a weekly phone call from his runaway daughter, and it seems like things are heading in the right direction with their relationship.
And then, it’s over. In the span of a few seconds, Frankie’s world once again begins to crumble as he learns of Francine’s death. At first, there’s shock and disbelief; then anger as Frankie lashes out against the system that allows for these things to happen – the politicians, the cops, the drug dealers. It’s everyone else’s fault. And then it sinks in. Frankie’s world really crashes down when he realizes that he himself is largely to blame for her death.
It’s almost unimaginable – how any parent deals with the untimely death of a child is beyond me. I’ve experienced the death of my grandparents, some extended family members and friends, but thankfully none of my immediate family. My two older brothers survived their near-death experiences; my sister made it through the grinder of street life alive. My own two children have lived happy, healthy lives. I’ve been lucky. But as Frankie, I have to deal with it in front of everyone’s eyes, right downstage on that bench, alone. And then, sing "Fallen Angel" to the her memory, because it's all Frankie knows how to do. The anger, the sadness, the guilt and pain all have to be believable while singing the words that Frankie dearly wishes he could have said to her face. It’s major heart-ache time.
In a way, I absolutely can relate. As unbelievable as it sounds, during the run of Jersey Boys in Toronto, our original Francine, Lindsay Thomas, died of lung cancer. She was 30. I’ve written lots about Lindsay and the amazing person she was - beauty personified, inside and out. She’s been flying around heaven cheering everyone up for over three years now, and I still think about her each and every time I do this show. How can I not? I mean, my daughter in the show and the actor actually playing her both died unexpectedly. (LINK: http://www.jeffmadden.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/lindsay-thomas-revised-edition.html)
After Lindsay died, I struggled mightily with getting through the phone call, the monologue, the scene with the minister and especially "Fallen Angel". The emotions I was dealing with were so raw, so real, so confusing that it became a bit of a problem for me. Then, one day, I remembered what happened to me when singing at Lindsay's memorial service. I became overcome with emotion at one particular point, and as I turned my gaze down to collect myself, my eyes became fixed on a picture of Lindsay’s smiling face. I felt calmness come over me in that moment, almost as if Lindsay is saying – ‘it’s OK, I’ll help you through this.’ I decided to bring this memory into every show of Jersey Boys, and since then I’ve never struggled with the song again. Thanks, Linds.
The best part is, this all works dramatically for the scene, too. When the spirit of Francine sits next to Frankie and places her hand on his, she comforts her grieving father as if to say, ‘It’s Ok, I’ll help you through this.’ Whether it was Lindsay or her replacement Alyson Smyth in Toronto, Teagan Wouters in Sydney or Kat Hoyos here on tour, I can feel the good vibes passing from their hands to mine. Along with a special closeness to Lindsay that, selfishly, I am going to miss once Jersey Boys closes in about five weeks.