Incredibly, after a nearly four-year run, Jersey Boys Australia will take its final bow in just one week. 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 it be for good this time? 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, in another Country, six nights a week.
This is Part 5 of an on-going series of Top 5’s that illuminate what it’s like to play ‘Frankie Valli’ in the long-running show, Jersey Boys.You can find Parts 1 and 2 to the right of this page, by clicking on 2013, then clicking on the heading ‘May’. Parts 3 and 4 are on the right under the heading 'June'.
Doing this show has been the most amazing experience of my career. I've traveled across the great country of Australia. I have had the chance to meet so many incredible people from all walks of life. I’ve been privileged to have several in-person conversations with Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio themselves. I’ve met famous professional athletes, sports executives and media personalities. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of fans after the show who have shown me their appreciation for giving them such a great night out. And I’ve met, worked with, and been inspired by hundreds of the most talented people you’ll find anywhere who populated the show's cast, band and crew during the past five years. It has truly been a gift to have been chosen to do this show.
But all that said, there are some things about this job that I won’t be sad to say Good-bye to. Some you'll find quite silly, and others quite profound. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, here are the Top 5 Things I Won’t Miss about playing 'Frankie Valli' in Jersey Boys.
Today’s Subject: The Top 5 Things I Won’t Miss
1. Shaving and Make-up.
The Four Seasons may have gone through periods of having long hair and beards, but you’d never know it from watching Jersey Boys. Onstage, the look we’re going for is definitely clean cut, even if the characters themselves are anything but. A big part of that look is to be clean shaven.
Shaving closely everyday isn’t terribly enjoyable. As luck would have it, I am blessed with a very thick beard and sensitive skin. Not a great combo. Even after a close shave, the powers that be think they can still see a 5 O’clock shadow, which in their eyes, makes me look a bit too old for the Frankie of Act 1. So, to add insult to injury, I need to apply make-up to my freshly shorn skin. There’s nothing better than dragging a razor across your face, then clogging your pores with foundation, then sweating under hot lights for a few hours, then washing it off, and doing it all over again the next day. But, there's only one week left, right?!?
I actually can’t wait to go back to this look (below) for a while. This photo was taken during a publicity event for a show I was doing in Toronto in early 2012.
2. The Baby-wipe.
In Act 1, the scene where Frankie and Mary get together - which we call the ‘Pizza Scene’ – ends with a fairly lengthy smooch. The kiss, nice as it may be, usually leaves my mouth covered with some of Mary’s bright red lipstick. Not a big problem, right?
Well, before the next scene begins, I have exactly ten seconds to exit with Mary into the wings, change jackets, and re-enter the stage pushing on the backseat of the car for the next scene. Oh, and grab a sip of water. And remove the red lipstick. In the dark.
My dresser and I have it down to a science. By the time I exit, she is standing in the wing behind a curtain with a flashlight around her neck, holding out my jacket. I run to her spot, whip off the jacket I’m currently wearing, and toss it on the flat to her right. I then spin around, put my arms down and back, and she slides the new jacket on. I spin back to face her, pick up my water bottle and take a half-second sip, during which time she has picked up the flashlight and ... a Baby-wipe. She then proceeds to wipe off the lipstick, as well as a good percentage of the foundation I am wearing to cover up my beard. (See #1 in things I won’t miss). I’m not sure which is worse – having the lipstick on my face for the next 15 minutes, until such time that I can make it to a mirror and remove it myself, or doing it this way.
But there's a bigger part to this. You know how certain smells can trigger a really strong reaction? Well, being a father of two little girls, I can tell you that I have personally used about 2,500 of those Baby-wipes while changing their dirty diapers. When that ‘baby-fresh’ smell is brought so close to my mouth and nose in this moment, it instantly brings to mind a rather strong negative sense memory (I think you know where I’m going with this…) and one that I’d rather not be reminded of mid-show!
3. That Dreaded Dance-Break.
You know the one. In ‘Beggin’’. Now don’t get me wrong – I love ‘Beggin’’. It totally rocks. It’s the perfect vibe for how Frankie is feeling at the point in the play. Fed up with Tommy’s lack of friendship and leadership in the group, Frankie takes charge, cashes in his claim check and asks Gyp for help in dealing with Tommy’s debt. I love singing that song, especially at that time of the show. I just, you know, could do without the dance-break.
I don’t know which part I dislike most … Is it the fact that it comes out of nowhere, like I'm being shot out of a cannon from standing still? Or is the fact that it starts with stepping to the right across my body with my left foot? (That just ain't right- try it, you'll see). Is it the spin around, the drop to the floor, the banging of my back knee on the stage, the jamming of my wrists into the floor, the violent pushing up and over to the other side, the other spin around, the long slide upstage to behind the mic? Might be. Um, have I mentioned yet the stretching of all the muscles in the hips and groin to unnatural positions? Maybe it’s just the fact that, you know, I have no real dance training, so doing this type of thing will never feel comfortable, regardless of how it looks? (Moral of the story – kids, you wanna do this for a living? Get thee to a dance class!)
While I’m ripping on ‘Beggin’’, I also won’t miss having to climb up a flight of stairs while singing the first chorus full out. And likewise, walking along that catwalk at a good pace and then jogging down the spiral staircase on the other side while singing the rest of the song – not exactly what you’d prefer to be doing whilst singing a rock song.
Ok – I’ll stop whingeing now. Whingeing is an Aussie word I’ve picked up here. It’s kinda like whining, but for grownups, especially if they’re complaining about minor aspects of their job to people who think that particular job is kinda awesome. So, yeah. I’ll stop whinging now. About ‘Beggin’’ at least – there’s still two more entries on the Top 5 to go…
4. The Discipline.
In Part 3 of this series, My Top 5 Daily Must-Dos, I ran down the list of things I need to do to play 'Frankie' on a consistent basis. I talked about the need for sleeping, drinking and eating right, the 90-minutes of warm-ups I need to do every day, and the warm-downs after the show, too. It’s not an easy schedule to maintain, especially when it’s compared to the routine that I’ve had on other shows, or even when compared to the routine of other actors in this show. It takes an incredible discipline to stick to this routine, each and every day. You can’t go out and blow off some steam whenever you feel like it. You can’t take a day off from doing the warm-up. You can’t pig out on yummy late-night fatty foods. You have to be disciplined.
But it goes way beyond that. Over the long run, this discipline tends to become your way of life. John Lloyd Young, the Original Broadway ‘Frankie’ who won the Tony award for his performance was famously quoted saying the secret to playing this part is “to live like a Monk”. If anyone would know, it would be John. He is the only guy on the planet who consistently played Frankie 8-shows a week. It was only after his experiences doing it for over a year that the producers decided to switch to employing a 6-show Frankie and a 2-show Frankie, to help get through the grind of a long run. So, for all the thrills of playing this part, it can take a huge toll on your life.
When I first started doing Jersey Boys in 2008, I had an 8-month old baby and a 2-year-old toddler at home. I want you to go back and read that sentence again. Think about the night-time routine of a house-hold like that. Think about the daily duties involved in a household like that. Use your imagination, go for the worst-case scenario. Then double it. It was nearly impossible for me to stick to my Daily Must-Dos. And as a result, doing the show became an epic struggle.
After a few months, I came to fully understand Nick’s rant in the Sitdown scene about living with Tommy on the road; ‘Living like a Monk’ is not a walk in the park, it’s a sentence. At my lowest point, I was so exhausted that I had lost about 10% of my body weight, which, I assure you, I could not afford to lose. Although it gradually got easier as our kids got older and my wife and I adapted – we actually had to move house – the daily routine of discipline nearly killed me. And continuing to do it over the years, it just plain wears you out. Taking a break from this part can be a real blessing.
5. The Loneliness.
This is a tricky one to talk about. The loneliness goes hand in hand with the discipline I mentioned above. It starts with the warm-ups – they’re unique to the Frankie, so you do them by yourself. You usually get to the theatre early and do them in your dressing room, and people will tend to leave you alone because, well, they know you need to do them. Same thing after the show – you shut the door and do your warm-down. By the time you’re finished, more often than not, everyone has left the theatre.
In most shows I’ve done, the cast and crew usually like to go out after a show to blow off some steam, at least a couple times a week. It’s a great way to develop friendships and bond as a group, which often has the added effect of making the show work even better onstage. But as a Frankie, you have to pick your spots to go out very carefully.
You can’t go to the bar as often as you’d like, because drinking alcohol and speaking loudly over the din of music and conversation can really strain your voice, especially after having completed a show. If you do go, you have to make sure that you’ve done your warm-down first, which means you go to the bar alone. Everyone has already ordered their drinks and picked their seats and started their conversations. Frankie’s are always late-joiners.
During the daytime before a show, guys playing Frankie also have to careful to conserve their energy and voice somewhat. This often leads to more solitary activities. Even on your Monday day-off, you have to be careful about going to a party, or a sporting event or concert. Loud talking, cheering or whooping it up can throw off the delicate balance of your voice for the start of the new week. And if you do choose to go, this constant ‘guarding’ yourself takes away some of the fun of being out in the first place, and since you’re usually the only one doing the 'guarding', it can lead to more lonely feelings.
And then there’s the show itself. Playing Frankie can also be a solitary experience onstage, especially in Act 2. So much of the act revolves around people leaving Frankie’s life, and with Frankie having to keep going forward as the solo act. You’re out there dealing with the struggle and loss mostly by yourself, which for those 30-minutes or so, can be quite lonely. Many of the other actors are backstage or in their dressing rooms, happily hanging out together.
And then there’s the travel. Let’s face it, most actors playing Frankie are not doing it in their hometown. I was so lucky doing Jersey Boys in Toronto for 21 months, living at home and doing the show. But in my two stints here in Australia, I’ve been living mostly on my own. I’m halfway around the world. I'm away from my wife. I’m away from my gorgeous children. I’m away from my network of friends. Sure, there’s Facebook and Skype, but with the different time zones and schedules, it’s never easy to hook up with them. And, no matter how good it is to talk or see the people you love on a computer screen, it’s just not the same as being there.
Don't get me wrong - the people I work with are great. They've gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable and welcome here. We've shared many memorable experiences together, both within the theatre and outside of it. But they have their own circle of relationships, their own family and/or partners nearby. And by the time I joined their cast, they all had been working together for long time, so their behavioural patterns and friendship groups were already established.
I think it's human nature not to invest as deeply in a new relationship with someone that you know will ultimately end in a few months. This isn't a knock on anyone - I am more guilty of this as any of my colleagues are. But the truth is, there's a 99% chance I'll never see any of my Aussie colleagues again. So, that's been really hard to deal with too, because you know, I like these guys. We get along great. But in a week's time, I'll be 10,000km away. That makes me feel lonely already.
Like I said at the top, I am so fortunate. Sure, it hasn't been easy, but this role has been a blessing. A gift. The best experience of my career. But when it comes to an end next week, I know I'll be just fine. I have so many things to look forward to when I get back. :-)