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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

JB Top 5's: Things I Won't Miss

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. :-)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

JB Top 5's: Liquid Relief

Incredibly, after a nearly four-year run, Jersey Boys Australia will take its final bow in about two 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 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 4 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. Part 1 is the Top5 moments that make my heart soar, Part 2 is the Top 5 moments that make my heart ache, and Part 3 is my Top 5 daily must-dos.

      You can find Parts 1 and 2 to the right of this page, by clicking on 2013, then clicking on ‘May’. Part 3 is on the right, under ‘June’.


Today's Subject: The Top 5 Moments of Liquid Relief

For the next couple JB Top 5’s I want to do something a bit cheeky, to use a common Aussie expression. I'm going to lift the curtain for you a bit, and reveal a few of the fun details about how we make the show work.

I mentioned in Part 3 of the JB Top 5’s that in order to keep my vocal chords in the optimal condition for the onslaught of singing and speaking, I drink a bladder-busting 2-3L of water while at the theatre. Well, I lied – sort of. It’s not all water that I drink. And some of it happens right before your eyes, onstage.

Why do I drink so much? First, there's the two and half hours of highly energetic singing, acting and dancing. But on top of that, theatres themselves are super dry places. In every theatre I’ve ever worked in, the backstage area is a massive space which in itself is hard to humidify. Then, they're blasted with Air Conditioning and filled with tonnes of electrical, sound and lighting equipment, zapping the air of what's left of its humidity. Less humidity equals dryer throats. Not good.

Jersey Boys is the fastest-paced show I’ve ever done, by a whole lot. It’s so fast, none of us have time to run to the water jug and pour ourselves a paper cup-full. Most of the cast are too busy running around, whipping off costumes and changing wigs while simultaneously singing background harmonies to boot. (You think I'm kidding? Think again.) This is why we all have a refillable water bottle positioned at our costume rack, so we can grab a quick drink while changing costumes. We also have a team of dressers backstage to help us do our faster costume changes, and they will often ‘travel’ the water bottle to you if there isn’t even enough time to make it to your costume rack, which you have to admit is pretty awesome, right?

“But wait a second,” you might say, “I saw the show and there’s lots of drinks onstage. Isn’t that enough?” Well, smarty-pants, most of the drinks you see onstage in Jersey Boys are not actually real. It's the magic of the theatre, sweetheart. That 'cocktail' you see is actually coloured water in a plastic glass which has been sealed with a plastic lid. I'm particularly fond of the "on the rocks" drinks we use, with the fake plastic ice cubes are sealed in, too. In other scenes, the ‘liquids’ themselves are not even liquid. For example, Crewe's glass of "milk" is a delicious combination of paint and plaster, and the schooners of 'draft beer' are actually molded plastic - unmovable, unspillable, and unbreakable (not to mention undrinkable).

The reality is that using actual liquids onstage can be dangerous in many ways, especially in a fast-moving musical. A drink could easily fall to the floor, which besides signaling an obvious mistake to the audience, it would make the stage dangerously slippery. Or the liquid could simply spill onto the actors, which could stain and possibly ruin someone's costume or shoes. And if a glass fell to the floor and broke into many sharp pieces, that would surely spell disaster. Nobody wants to see that.

But, in spite of these and so many other reasons, we occasionally take the risk and use real liquids in Jersey Boys. Why? Sometimes, when scenes are 'smash-cut' right into other scenes again and again, we’ll get stranded onstage for long periods of time, unable to quench our thirst before singing a big number. Luckily for us, the original creative team figured out a way to get us some liquids onstage just when we need it most. Here are Top 5 places during the show that I get me some liquid relief.

  1. On Crewe’s Couch.
My first onstage drink occurs in Act 1 during Bob’s season, “Spring”. We're enjoying a celebratory ‘shot’ with Bob Crewe, rejoicing in the fact that we’ve got the money together for our first recording session. The ‘shot’, which I assume is meant to be whiskey (Canadian Club, perhaps?) is a delicious room-temperature Iced Tea, and it perfectly whet’s the whistle for the next section leading up to the Big Three, ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like A Man’. Hmm, maybe drinking the Iced Tea is the secret for hitting all those high notes...

The photo below is of the original Chicago cast - that's Dominic Scaglioni as Frankie and fellow Canadian Jeremy Kushnier as Tommy. A good friend of mine, Jeremy was also the original Tommy in Toronto. In the moment captured below, you can tell he's very upset that he didn't get any Iced Tea, too.

                                                                                                            (Photo by Craig Laurie )

         2. In Gyp’s Basement.
In the dramatic ‘Sitdown’ scene early in Act 2, the four of us head into Gyp’s basement with loan-shark Norm Waxman to broker a deal to settle Tommy’s debt. In a stroke of luck, Gyp has thoughtfully provided us with some nice Italian Red Wine on the table. Unluckily for us, it’s not actually wine, but a very sweet grape juice. Welch's, I think. Whatever it is, it’s a welcome way for me to keep my voice hydrated in the middle of what’s probably a 30-minute stretch of singing and acting without exiting the stage. Hmm, maybe drinking Welches makes me belt better ...

In this tense photo below of the 2nd US National Tour, Nick is asking Gyp for some more Welch's, but no one moves a muscle.

                                                                                                               (Photo by Joan Marcus)

         3. In The Diner.
About 15 minutes later, there’s an awesome scene in a Diner where Bob tells Frankie that he’s also leaving the group, and tries to convince Frankie that things will work better this way. I love that scene for so many reasons. First, it really shows the depth of their relationship and highlights not only Bob’s intelligence but also his understanding of Frankie. Secondly, it shows Frankie having a rare moment of vulnerability, briefly opening up a softer side by confiding in Bob his fears and distressed feelings. And the scene manages all this in a believable way, with a nice dose of humour to boot. One other touch I love (although I only know it exists because I’ve seen it as an audience member – it literally happens silently behind my back) is when the waitress and bus boy overhear us talking and realize that they are actually in the presence of ‘celebrities’. Major kudos go to writers Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and director Des McAnuff for this scene. 

Oh – and there’s one last great thing I love about this scene - I get to drink some more of that delicious room-temperature Iced Tea, just enough to keep the chords moist for the next ten minutes or so. Much to Bob's surprise, it makes me so happy that I get up and do a Happy Dance, which is captured in this rare archival photo below.

         4. On The Spiral Staircase.
Later on in Act 2 during the "Winter-of-my-discontent" section, in a 90-second burst of energy I sing ‘Mary-Ann’, blast out a monologue setting up a scene between Bob and the record company executives, and finally head up the spiral staircase to catch my breath, out of the light. Luckily for me, there is a little ledge hidden near the top of the staircase with a tiny Frankie-sized water bottle just waiting to be used. 

In those few seconds before the light comes back up, I enjoy a nice drink of water and empty my pockets - I place onto the ledge the (fake) microphone that I’ve been singing into and the pack of (fake) smokes in my jacket pocket. The drink is just what the doctor ordered before launching into ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ and ‘Workin’ My Way Back To You’, two of the most challenging songs in the show.

Despite what you may think, this is not a photo of me. It is, however, fellow Canadian Kara Tremel of the Vegas company, playing Mary. Although I couldn't find a photo of a Frankie up there, I thought you might enjoy seeing Kara sitting on the spiral staircase, holding a plastic glass filled with coloured water and plastic ice cubes, complete with a sealed plastic lid. Awesome.

                                                                                                             (Photo by Joan Marcus)

         5. On The Hospital Bench.
After singing those two huge songs and delivering another monologue, we segue into the section preceding ‘Fallen Angel’. I haven't been offstage for about 30 minutes, and at this point of the show – 2 hours in and 21 songs down - my voice is very tired. I finish the monologue, sit on the bench, and a nurse comes out and gives me a nice white box. Although that was very kind of her, I kinda appreciate the Priest a bit more because when he comes out, he hands me a Styrofoam cup holding a few sips of water. Although, I gotta be honest with you, sometimes I wish it was scotch. (Ok, most times I wish it was scotch, but what are you gonna do.) 

Funny thing about this moment - sometimes when I bring the cup to my mouth, it smells ever so faintly of hand sanitizer. This makes me smile on the inside, because it tells me that the actor playing the Priest, Enrico Mammarella, probably just sanitized his hands backstage, and is trying not to transfer any germs on to me. Personally, I’d rather not get a whiff hand sanitizer up my nose before singing, but at this moment, it’s still worth it for that lovely sip of germ-free water.

This is Rebecca Jayne Davies as Francine and Ryan Molloy as Frankie of the London company. Here, she's saying to Ryan, "It's OK, the show's almost over. You'll get offstage soon. Then you can drink whatever you want." (Photo by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg) 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

JB Top 5's: Daily Must-Dos

Incredibly, after a nearly four-year run, Jersey Boys Australia will take its final bow in about two 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 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, six nights a week. 

      Part 3 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.  Parts 1 and 2 are linked below, or you can also find them to the right, by clicking on 2013, then clicking on May.

   From L-R: Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio), Me, Anthony Harkin (Tommy DeVito), Glaston Toft (Nick Massi)

 Today's Subject: The Top 5 Daily Must-Dos

“It must be so glamorous getting to play Frankie Valli! You must be having so much fun up there - You make it look so easy onstage! It must be nice, only having to work at night!” These are a few of the typical comments I hear from audience members after the show at the stage door. I also get, “How do you do that – is that your normal singing voice?” And then, “Oh, you have an accent - What part of the States are you from?”

My answers are usually – “Glamorous - not really. Fun – absolutely! Easy – not on your life!” Basically, most of the time, an actor’s life is not what you might think. It’s a tonne of hard work, we’re just trained to make it look easy. Now, trying to answer the question about my ‘normal’ voice and how I sing like Frankie… well, that’s hard work, too. It’s actually a fascinating question, one that I will address throughout this Top 5 post. (Oh, and I answer the ‘Where in the States’ question with “The Canadian part.”)

It’s pretty obvious that playing ‘Frankie Valli’ in Jersey Boys is kinda difficult. There’s the singing technique, power and endurance required, in addition to closely approximating Frankie’s iconic sound. Then there’s the acting skill required to play this world-famous Italian-American from a dirt-poor teenager to a Rock and Roll legend. There’s more than a few dance skills required, not to mention the fitness to sing and dance through 25 songs and all those scenes with only a few very short breaks.

But on top of all that, in order to succeed in this role, you’ve got to be reliable. You’ve got to have the endurance to deliver the goods night after night, six days a week. And in my opinion, maintaining this endurance is the hardest part of doing this role. It’s also probably the trickiest to predict in an individual, from a casting point of view.

For me, being reliable has been a point of pride throughout my whole life. Whether at school, or the baseball field, as a band member – heck, just as a person – I've always tried to make it a part of my character. 

But, how does an actor do ‘reliable’? I think it starts with really knowing yourself. Throughout my 16 years being a professional actor and singer, I’ve been undergoing a never-ending exercise in self-awareness. I constantly “check in with myself”, during rehearsals, during warm-ups, during performances (if the occasion permits), and after the show. It’s a process that every actor needs to develop in order to get better in their craft. 

For example, I’m constantly checking in with my muscles – vocal and otherwise - to see how they felt after doing a particular section of the show. I’ll ask myself, “How did that section go – great or less than great? And how did it feel? Did I do something differently there? And if the answer is yes, was the outcome the same, better, or worse? If it was better, is it worth making the change permanent?” On my breaks, I’ll write down the information gathered from doing this type of analysis into a notebook which I keep in my dressing room. I’ll refer to the notes on a constant basis until the information becomes a part of my muscle memory. Sometimes, if I’ve gotten into some bad habits, I’ll look back through my notebooks and invariably come across the solution.

When doing a challenging show six days a week, I’ve found that the most important factor for being reliable is being properly warmed-up. Obviously, how you warm up depends on the role you’re playing. For some shows I’ve been in, warming up is a 20-minute thing. You stretch for a minute or two, you vocalize for maybe 10 minutes, maybe have a cuppa joe, and throw on your costume. Other roles have been much harder. For example, playing Homer in Floyd Collins at the Shaw Festival back in 2004 was so vocally and physically challenging for me that I was having problems consistently being my best. I discovered that by spreading out my warm-up into shorter intervals throughout the day - thus gently nudging my voice and body in the direction that they needed to go - I would have a better show than if I just warmed up during the hour before curtain. That experience helped prepare me for this one. 

Doing Frankie consistently well requires the most intensive warm-up I’ve ever had to do. I’ve developed it from listening to my creative team - who’ve learned from other Frankie’s experiences - and from doing this type of self-awareness analysis from Day 1. If I waver from it, injuries inevitably start to creep in. They’re usually minor at first, but they can quickly escalate to major issues. And trust me, you don’t want to be doing this role in pain – talk about a nightmare. (My experiences there might soon be the topic of another Top 5 list…) 

So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 things that I must do every day to be my best onstage as Frankie Valli every night. (I don’t know what the other Frankie’s past and present do to get ready to play this part every day. It may be very similar, it may be completely different. This post is only meant to describe what it’s like for me personally.)

·        1. Get eight hours of sleep, eat healthily, take vitamins, and drink tons of water.
Sleep is a no-brainer. Your body repairs itself while you sleep, leaves you with enough energy, and keeps your mind sharp. ‘Nuff said.

Like anyone who wants to perform at their highest level, musical theatre performers must eat a healthy diet and supplement with vitamins as required. I’ve always had a high metabolism, so I’m usually quite hungry in the morning. I never skip breakfast. Ever. I’ll try to have a large healthy lunch, but sometimes the lunch is small and the dinner is large. But whatever I do – and I’ve learned this the hard way – I never perform Jersey Boys with food in my system. Ideally, the last meal I eat will be between two and three hours before showtime. There’s way too much running around while vigorously using my diaphragm singing and screaming in this show to have food in my system. Ugh… I’m getting sick just thinking about it.

And water. I never stop drinking water during the day. It keeps the voice happy, heals up everything quickly, and keeps things running smoothly. I probably drink 2-3L of water during the day, then another 2L at the theatre between warm-up and warm-down. Maybe more. (And yes, I have planned my drinking and bathroom breaks very carefully during the show… haha).
     2. Minimum 20-minutes of a tongue-pulling vocal warm-up.
What? Tongue-pulling? Yup. Singing rock music for a couple hours puts a huge strain on the tongue muscle, not to mention many other muscles in the face, neck, chest and back. Everyone knows that it’s extremely beneficial before and after exercise to stretch your muscles to avoid muscle pain, cramping and inflammation. The tongue is no different, and gently pulling it forward while doing a series of vocal exercises has proven time and time again to keep the vocal apparatus healthy enough to rock it out six days a week.

This lesson was first drilled into me in a recording studio in Nashville, TN where I met the one and only Bob Gaudio and the woman who would become my new best friend, vocal teacher Katie Agresta. Katie teaches her methods to all the Frankie’s around the world, whether in-person or by Skype, and I know that utilizing Katie’s knowledge has greatly helped my reliability. If you’re reading this, “Thanks for everything, Katie!” (Incidentally, she has taught, among others, Jon Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz, and recent Tony-award winner Cindy Lauper… so, Katie’s kind of a big deal…) Also, “Thank you, Dodger Theatricals, for contracting Katie to teach all your Frankie’s – smart move!” It’s sure made a difference in my career.

I do tongue-pulling vocal exercises for at least 20-minutes before the show, and for about 15-minutes after the show as part of a warm-down. Every single show, without fail. It works.
     3. Minimum 20-minutes of a “legit” Bel Canto vocal warm-up.
Bel Canto is Italian for “beautiful singing”, but I’m referring here to the Bel Canto teaching style for singers. It is widely used to train singers in a ‘classical’ or ‘legitimate’ style of sound production that dates back to the late 1700s. I was taught this technique for about seven years while working at the Shaw Festival by the inimitable Carol Forte (and if that isn’t a great singing teacher’s last name, I don’t know what is).

Singing with this technique is considered the ‘healthiest’ style of singing, and when done correctly, it produces a beautiful tone while putting the least strain on the voice. My friend Wikipedia tells me that when using this technique properly, singers will have an impeccable legato production throughout a seamless range and the use of a lighter tone in the higher registers, giving the singer an agile, flexible voice capable of dispatching ornate embellishments (um, licks?), the ability to execute fast, accurate divisions (um, runs?), the avoidance of aspirates (wuh?), a pleasing timbre (“look out below!”) and a graceful phrasing rooted in a complete mastery of breath control.

Basically, it helps me sing good! If I don’t warm-up with Bel Canto exercises for a few days, my tone suffers and I lose the ease of connection through the bridge (between my chest voice and falsetto) which, in this show, is deadly. That’s why I do them. I remind my voice what’s healthy before I go out and shred it. (“Thank you, Carol! You Rock – but in a legitimately healthy way!”)

·        4. Minimum 20-minutes of a “mixed” head-voice dominant vocal warm-up.
I usually do these exercises during the last 45-minutes just before the show every day, and helps me to solidify that iconic “Frankie” sound. Here, I combine specific exercises from my work with Katie with specific exercises from my work with Carol, and add in what I learned from Bob Gaudio in that Nashville studio. I throw all of that into a blender, add in some tobacco sauce and some roasted garlic, say a couple prayers, and Viola- I’m ready to go.

It’s really quite difficult to describe, but there are a few particular exercises that help me merge my chest voice with my falsetto in a silky smooth manner. When done properly, this allows me to sound a lot like Frankie while still singing in a healthy, Jeffy-like way (Or, is that J-e-f-f-i?). Regardless, this step is also essential for helping me make believers out of the audience.
     5. Minimum 30-minutes of a physical warm-up.
So, again, this kinda goes without saying, but if you want to do a physical activity well, you’ve got to warm-up your muscles. And playing ‘Frankie Valli’ certainly qualifies as physical activity. I’ve never been a good runner – for me, running creates more problems than it helps – so I like to ride a bike for a light cardio warm-up. Failing that, I do lots of squats, lunges and step-ups. Singers need to warm their legs, their glutes, their back and their core, because despite what you might think, all of those muscles are essential to proper singing and voice production. 

I have found that Yoga is also extremely helpful for me, and I do about three 30-minute sessions a week now (I used to do 30-minutes every day in my early days playing Frankie back in Toronto in 2008). I had never done Yoga before starting Jersey Boys, but my good friend and assistant choreographer Danny Austin told me to start doing it during our first conversation after I got the job. “Thanks, Danny! You’ve helped me more than you could possibly know!” (Oh, and those Side-Splits would have never happened without it!)

I also lift weights in a circuit, once or twice a week, hitting all the muscle groups. I try not to get into the same pattern of exercises, because I find the body adapts very quickly to them, lessening their effect. I don’t lift heavy weights at all, because doing so definitely affects my performance – trust me, dragging lead-like lactic acid-filled muscles around the stage at a high pace for two hours is a nightmare. And of course, before show-time, I like to make sure I get a nice stretch through my hips, my rib-cage, my chest, shoulders and neck. I gently repeat these stretches after the show as part of my 15-minute warm-down before heading out of the theatre. 

It’s all part of the daily routine of being a Frankie. A ‘good ol’ reliable’ one, as the famous song from Guys and Dolls goes. (By the way, I can’t wait to see that show down at the Shaw Festival in Niagara this summer – I hear it’s a wonderful production. Go see it.) Till next time.