About Me

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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.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

JB Top 5's: 5 Moments That Make My Heart Soar

Incredibly, after a nearly four-year run, Jersey Boys Australia will take its final bow in about six weeks. One of the world's most successful musicals in decades has certainly been a hit Down Under, as it has around the world. And for me, this will mark the third time I will be saying "Bye Bye, Baby" to the show. Will this time be for good? Who knows.

      Facing another closing night has inspired me to look back and examine my time with this show. And because I think you might find it interesting, I've decided to share some of these thoughts with you. Specifically, my goal is to put into words exactly what it's like to be an actor playing this iconic person in this famous band in this amazing show, six nights a week. 

      This will be the first post in what I hope will be a series of retrospective musings on playing Frankie Valli in the hit show Jersey Boys.


     Today's subject: The Top 5 Moments That Make My Heart Soar.

      Although I'm coming up on my 700th performance as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, there are still moments in every single show that give me a thrill - you know, when you get that little shiver down your spine, or maybe that little tingle behind your ears when you smile really big? Me, my arms come alive with goosebumps.

      Every so often, a new moment will surprise me, but here are the five events that do it to me, every single show. Guaranteed.

     1. Singing "Walk Like A Man".
      As a piece of theatre, Jersey Boys is constructed extremely well. The shows opens with a bang, and then it zips along at breakneck speed, drawing you into the world of 1950s New Jersey. You meet all these interesting characters, and are captivated by the story... but you've yet to hear any of their big hits! Just when the anticipation in the crowd can't possibly get any higher - BAM! - you get hit with "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man", the Big Three, back to back to back. 

      Singing "Walk Like A Man" is like skiing down a Black Diamond run. It's like bungee jumping off a suspension bridge. It's like mountain-biking down a rugged hillside. You grab on tight, say a prayer, and give 'er. It's full-out fun, and it's over before you know it.

     The Big Three requires me to sing the highest notes in my show as loudly and for as long as I possibly can. And, it's frickin' hard, people! The range is pretty ridiculous, and screaming out and holding soprano F's for eight counts is not easy. Repeatedly transitioning between my chest voice and falsetto is also extremely difficult. And then there's the choreography on top of the singing... my heart pounds, the lungs ache for air, but I still need to hold that last note - a high D - for a full 12 counts. The volume increases, the notes rise, "Like A Man...!" the bass thumps "Ba-da-da-Dum!" and the audience goes crazy.

      Sure, it feels great to hear the crowd roar and applaud. But beyond that, it's an awesome feeling because when I get to the end, I know I've survived the challenge. At that point, with the crowd cheering, when the physical exertion combines with the excellence of execution, and I'm left with the after-glow of a good adrenaline rush. ... BOOM! Goosebumps.

     2. Singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You".
      Again, you have to give major credit to director Des McAnuff and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice for constructing such an incredible show. The buildup in Act 2 to this song is exquisitely written. We see Tommy and Nick leave the group. Bob and Frankie try to figure out how to keep the band going while still making enough money to pay off the Mobsters. The we see Bob leave the group. We watch Frankie strain under the pressure of this burden. His relationships with his ex-wife, daughter, and girlfriend all fray like the end of a rope. When Frankie hits rock bottom, we then see the glimmer of hope for Frankie in Bob's dedication and friendship. Bob pushes hard to get a song that nobody believes in played on the radio. Frankie gets one last chance, to sing this song with everything on the line. And then, in a tight spotlight, a single mic rises out of the pit. Thrillingly, it all comes down to this one moment.

      I get to step into the light and sing this hauntingly beautiful song. No, not just sing. My vocal chords may form the words and pitches, but I squeeze out my heart and soul, I wring out all my hopes and dreams onto the sound. I sing it to my wife, I sing it to my kids, to the life-force; I sing it to my muse, my inspiration, my joy of music, of singing, of creating and expressing; I sing it for my two grandfathers and my parents whose musical genes have thankfully been passed down into my every cell. And when I hold the last note of the penultimate phrase, "And let me love you baby, let me love you..." and sit in that silence for just a second, it's like ecstasy... It feels like 2000 people are just holding their breath... and finally, with all my remaining strength, I offer up my best "You're just too good to be true...!" holding that last note as long and strong as I can ... when the band, my voice and finally the crowd all swell at the same time ... BOOM! Goosebumps. 

      Every single night the applause at this moment feels unbelievably amazing, and that smile that I break into is absolutely genuine. I touch my heart out of deep appreciation for having been given this gift by the audience (and the casting directors!) and wave thank you to them for sharing it with me. I'm a lucky guy. Seriously lucky.

     3. Singing "Working My Way Back To You".
      With new wind in my sails from singing "Can't Take..." and a feeling that I can conquer anything, we launch right into this song. From Day 1 of rehearsing this number all the way back in November, 2008 (!) the choreography has always felt incredible. Now, if you know me at all, you'll realize that this last statement is a complete shocker. That I should feel incredible the first time rehearsing any choreography is a huge surprise. But seriously, Sergio Trujillo, take a bow for your outstanding work. And Danny Austin, take one too, for teaching it to me. Standing there as I do, on a 45-degree angle with my legs strong and wide, heels popping and twisting, snapping along to the sick groove in the band, I feel like the Heavyweight champion of the world. (OK, more like the Lightweight champion... but you get the idea.)

     The whole song is a thrill for me. After grooving upstage, I get to come down and sing a couple lines directly to a lovely lady in the first couple rows. I get to strut my way across to downstage centre. I get to wail some crazy high notes. And then I get to prowl downstage like a freaking tiger, flanked on both sides by two talented band-mates. We're Rock Stars, man!

      The movements perfectly match how I feel, how I imagine Frankie would feel in that moment. They match the way the song sounds, they suit the lyrics, and importantly, they let me wail out the notes over top. And singing this song is not easy, either, especially after having sung 20 other songs already. Most of this song's long, high phrases need to be belted in full chest voice. On one particular two-bar phrase, I need to rise out of my chest-voice, slip into falsetto, and slam back into chest again. Then, to top it all off, I have to hit the highest belted note in my show - a B-flat. Switching between the registers and still sounding great is a huge challenge. But, I love that challenge, and rising to it here in this moment is a thrill. When I finish the song with "I Let it get away....!" and I hold that last note, right arm rising to the rafters ... BOOM! Goosebumps.

     4. Singing "Who Loves You".
      This is the final song in the show, and as such, it marks the end of an incredibly emotional journey, both for the audience and for me. It's also the end of two and a half hours of hard work. So, when you combine the two together, I'm spent. As exhausted as I may be, it's absolutely thrilling to sing this song. It's high and hard to sing, sure, but seeing each of the guys come down to join me at the mic fills me with energy. The Four Seasons family is back together for one last hit song. It's magic.

      I get more energized when the rest of the cast run onstage, take their places, and join in with their incredible voices. I remember feeling pure elation the first time I saw this moment as an audience member. And while singing this song, I can see the elation in the eyes of the people sitting in the first couple rows. The song builds to its climax, we grab our mics and come right down on the lip of the stage. The four of us share a meaningful final look and acknowledge all we've been through. We're survivors. And, like that famous song goes, we did it our way. 

      Then, finally, we sing one last crazy highnote-filled chord, we hit our final pose, the band nails their thrilling button. The lights snap to black... the crowd goes absolutely nuts... and in that moment... BOOM! Goosebumps.

     5. Running onstage for the Bows, and singing the reprise of "December '63".
      Again, the crowd goes nuts seeing the four of us run out of the wings and downstage for our bow. Even though it seems impossible, the audience is louder at this point than they've been all show. Technically at this point, the show is over, so we can loosen up a little bit. In a small way, I start to shed a tiny bit of Frankie's skin and fully enjoy the experience. The choreography is so fun to do, the song is great fun to sing, and watching the crowd sing, dance and clap along is a real treat.

      And that's when it hits me. To be involved in a show this successful is such a thrill. It is also extremely rare. Seriously. In fifteen years in the business, in 25 years of going to the theatre, I have almost never seen this type of reaction from the crowd at the end of the show. And to know that in some small way, my own hard work, dedication and talent have helped to create the magic that is the catalyst for this reaction... well, I almost can't describe how awesome that feels. And that feeling, well... you guessed it. Goosebumps.


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Anonymous said...

Jeff Madden, you're MORE than INCREDIBLE! I have no words. B.O.O.M. ......... goosebumps!!!

Jeff Madden said...

So, um , Vanessa. Did you like this post? hahaha

Angie in T.O. said...

I hope this show returns to Toronto one day. I saw it 6 times while it was here. I was recently in Las Vegas and noticed it was playing there, but didn't have time to go. And if it does come around this way again, YOU better be playing Frankie.

Gladys Marlin said...

I never had the pleasure of seeing this cast. However, I have seen the show 30 times now and looking forward to my 31st in Philadelphia. Jeff's fave moments are also some of my favorite parts. When he mentioned "prowling" in Working my Way I had to smile as that was one of my first fave moments. Best show EVER! Gladys Marlin, Houston,

Howard Tucker said...

Jeff, I so enjoyed reading this. I did get to see you your last night in Toronto.

I've seen the show many times in many cities, and I'm not sure if it's analagous, but your "Who Loves You" brought back memories of my singing of "Adon Olom" after I spent three hours as a boy with my parents at Saturday morning servies at the Clifton Jewish Center. I think my elation at singing "Adon Olom" is that the services were finally over and we were exiting the temple!!

Sze Yng said...

Jeff, THANK YOU for coming all the way to Perth to perform for us! We are so fortunate to have you here. You are so talented and the hard work you put into an excellent performance as Frankie is evident.

I saw JB twice and "Can't Take My Eyes off You" was my favourite. My only complaint is that you didn't sing the full version of "A Sunday Kind of Love"! ha ha

Have a safe trip back to Toronto!

Unknown said...

Congratulations on a fantastic season in Perth. I had the pleasure of attending 2 shows in Perth. The first was so fantastic that I brought along 12 friends to the final show tonight. Friggin amazing......

Unknown said...

I had the pleasure of seeing the show twice in Perth. I enjoyed it so much the first time I brought 12friends along to the final show tonight. Jeff, you and the cast didn't let us down it was friggin awesome.... Hope you enjoyed working in our fine country Have a safe trip home...