On Oct. 30-Nov. 4 and Nov. 6-11 and 13-18, the Durham Performing Arts Center will present Jersey Boys, a rousing backstage musical based on the meteoric rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons from the mean streets of Mafia-infested neighborhoods of Newark, NJ, to international stardom. Jersey Boys is not just another jukebox musical; it is an unflinching look at the origins of the American super-group The Four Seasons, and it is R-rated for language.
According to 27-year-old actor and singer Christopher Messina, who plays Joey (i.e., the young Joe Pesci) in Jersey Boys Tour 2, the musical’s second touring company started rehearsals on Oct. 17, 2011, and had its first public performance on Dec. 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, PA. After 24 performances at DPAC, Tour 2 will travel to Louisville, KY, where it will open on Nov. 20th and remain through Dec. 2nd.
Messina says he auditioned in early August of 2011, the day after Hurricane Irene hit the New York area.
“It was general tryout, because it was a brand-new cast,” he remembers. “Because I understudy Frankie Valli, most of my audition was directed at Frankie…. I went to ‘Frankie Camp’ about four years ago, but not since then.
“But,” Chris Messina says, “The director saw me as Joey, and that’s the role I got offered to play.”
“I’m 100 percent Italian,” notes Messina. “There’s not many people in the [Tour 2] cast that are Italian. Neither of our Frankies is Italian, but they have the look for the role. I’m not sure that any of our Four Seasons are Italian.”
He adds, ‘I’m from Long Island. The Long Island accent is very close to the New Jersey accent [used in the show]…. When I speak as Joey or Frankie, I use that accent, which I tried very hard to get rid of” earlier in his career.
Before Goodfellas (1990) and My Cousin Vinny (1992) made Joe Pesci a big movie star, he was a part of the Newark musical scene. In fact, Chris Messina points out, Joe Pesci introduced Bob Gaudio to the other three members of what would become The Four Seasons.
“Apparently, [Joe Pesci] was a very good guitar player,” says Messina. He adds, “The [Jersey Boys] company is very careful about how the character of Joe Pesci is played. There’s a tendency to take him over the top, and make him too cartoony. But the company never wants it to seem that you are playing Joe Pesci; they want you to play the part of Joey [as written].”
After singing and dancing his whole life, skipping college to launch a career in musical theater, performing on cruise ships and in regional theater and in the national tour of Hairspray that played DPAC some time ago, Chris Messina landed the part of Joey in Tour 2 of Jersey Boys, and researched the role by watching some of Joe Pesci’s films to pick up his characteristic speech patterns and gestures.
“Joey only has three scenes,” Messina explains. “He’s only in one section of the show, as Bob [Gaudio]’s getting introduced to the group …, but he’s a strong part of the cast.”
Messina says Pesci is a true Italian man, like his grandfather, who died when Chris was 13 or 14 years old. “During the whole audition process,” Messina says, “I carried a picture of my grandfather with me. I remember what it was like sitting around the table with him, and how true Italian men speak.”
Originally formed 1960 as The Four Lovers and known since 1967 as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the group scored five number-one hits: “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (both in 1962), “Walk Like a Man” (1963), “Rag Doll” (1964), and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” (1975). As a solo artist, Frankie Valli had two more number-one hits with “My Eyes Adored You” (1975) and “Grease” (1978), even though probably his best-remembered solo recording, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (1967), peaked at number two on the pop charts. The group has since been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1990) and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (1999).
After having its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, Jersey Boys made its Broadway debut, directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, on Nov. 6, 2005 at the August Wilson Theatre, where it is still playing, having racked up 2,878 performances as of Oct. 21, 2012.
This mega-hit musical, which features music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, originally starred John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli, Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito, J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi, and Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio. It received eight 2006 Tony Award® nominations and won the award for Best Musical and three other Tonys.
The production of Jersey Boys that Durham Performing Arts Center patrons will see is the exact same production that people saw on Broadway or when Broadway Series South brought Tour 1 to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in June and July 2009, claims Chris Messina.
“The stage is a little smaller, and the set is a little smaller by about four or five feet,” says Messina. “It’s easier to travel that way, and the smaller set makes the show more intimate.
“The only thing that’s different,” he says, “is the actors playing the roles.”
In addition to Chris Messina as Joey, the Jersey Boys cast includes Brad Weinstock as lead vocalist Frankie Valli (nee Francesco Stephen Castelluccio), Colby Foytik as lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, Brandon Andrus as bass guitarist Nick Massi (nee Nicholas Macioci), and Jason Kappus as keyboardist and songwriter Bob Gaudio — the original Four Seasons, who were climbing the pop charts at that watershed moment in rock-and-roll history — in the mid-1960s — when the British Invasion, led by the cleancut Beatles and Dave Clark Five and the scruffy Rolling Stones, eclipsed so many home-grown American rock-and-roll groups.
The Tour 2 cast also includes Barry Anderson as The Four Seasons’ producer and Bob Gaudio’s songwriting partner Bob Crewe, Thomas Fiscella as gangster Gyp DeCarlo and others, Kaleigh Cronin as Lorraine, Brent DiRoma as Hank, Larry Esparza as a Thug and a Guitar Player, Natalie Gallo as Mary, Wes Hart as Norm Waxman, Dave Hiltebrand as a Thug and a Bass Player, Hayden Milanes as a Frankie Valli alternate, Rachel Schur as Francine and others, Skye Scott as Knuckles, and Curtis Wiley as Barry Belson. The swings include Candi Boyd, Stephen Cerf, Devon Goffman, Michelle Pruiett, and Carlos Valdes.
“In this economy, this is an incredible job to have,” admits Chris Messina. He adds, “I enjoy going to work every night. After 360-something performances, I still walk out of the theater singing the songs.”
SECOND OPINION: May 15th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWord.com Raleigh interview with Matt Bay, Alayna Gallo, and Kevin Crewell and Oct. 30th interview with Rick Elice, both conducted by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Interviews-The-JERSEY-BOYS-Talk-Durham-Engagement-this-Fall-20120515 and http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Interviews-JERSEY-BOYS-Writer-Rick-Elice-Discusses-the-Shows-Beginnings-20121030, respectively; April 27th and Oct. 25th Durham, NC Herald-Sun previews by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/18376509/article-‘Jersey-Boys’-gives-DPAC-sneak-peek and http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/20611263/article-‘Jersey-Boys’-all-over-the-world, respectively (Note: You must register to read this article); and Oct. 9th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel preview by Elizabeth Baker: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2012/10/jersey-boys-teach-entrepreneurship; and .
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents JERSEY BOYS at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 8 p.m. Nov. 2, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 3, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4, 7: 30 p.m. Nov. 6-8, 8 p.m. Nov. 9, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 10, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 7: 30 p.m. Nov. 13-15, 8 p.m. Nov. 16, and 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 17, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $24-$153 (including fees), except $24 Student Rush Tickets (sold day of performance) for seats in Row P of the Balcony.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1551009. GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services/broadway_group_pricing, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services/online-groups.
The Tour: http://www.jerseyboysinfo.com/tour/ (official web page).
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: http://www.frankievallifourseasons.com/ (official website), http://gilgweb.com/initial.html (official unofficial website), http://rockhall.com/inductees/the-four-seasons (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Seasons_(band) (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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