toggle audio on and off change volume download audio November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley) They immortalized “late December back in ’63,” but they’re just as catchy in Dec. 2019.
The ultimate jukebox musical “Jersey Boys” returns to National Theatre now through Jan. 5, the latest tour of the hit production winning five Tonys on Broadway in 2005.
“This show is for people who might not love musical theater but want to see a great show with some great music and great acting,” lead actor Jon Hacker told WTOP. “They’re going to come see the show and really enjoy themselves. If you’re a Frankie Valli fan you should obviously see the show, but if not, you’re still going to see a great show about how this rock ‘n roll band got together and made history.”
Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the show follows the formation of New Jersey doo-wop group The Four Seasons, including falsetto frontman Frankie Valli (Hacker), mob-indebted lead guitarist Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan), songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Eric Chambliss) and bassist Nick Massi (Michael Milton).
“‘Jersey Boys’ tells the story of these four guys who grew up in Belleville, New Jersey, how they all grew up together, the trials and tribulations of wanting to become the greatest rock band of all time and the drama that went along with that,” Hacker said.
The show is familiar to Hacker, who previously played the Joe Pesci role on Broadway.
“Joe Pesci actually had a really big part in how the Four Seasons came to be and is a really good part in the show,” Hacker said. “I was also an understudy for Frankie Valli. I was with it for a little under a year and we closed Jan. 17, 2017. It was amazing. On closing night, Frankie Valli was there and the celebration of the 10 years it had been on Broadway was amazing. It’s one of the best parts of my life so far.”
What was it like meeting Valli in real life?
“He’s the nicest man,” Hacker said. “He’s very quiet, but everything he says, you listen, you really put your ear in. He’s a great, great man. He has nothing but love for the show because it’s the story of how he came to be and how these four guys came to be one of the most successful rock bands of all time.”
Now he is honored to be promoted to the lead role.
“I’ve always loved playing Frankie Valli,” Hacker said. “I had the opportunity to play him a few times on Broadway when someone had to call out or whatever. When they wanted me to come out on the road, I was elated. This is one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played. To be Frankie Valli up on stage, there’s nothing like it really. I’m really fortunate. … Every night I think about how lucky I am.”
How does he hit that famous falsetto?
“I am a trained singer,” Hacker said. “I grew up singing rock ‘n roll music like that. When I was a kid, I always loved singing in my falsetto. Over the years I’ve just honed it in with voice lessons. Every night I have a whole thing I prepare. I steam my voice and I do an extensive warm-up to make sure I hit those high notes without hurting myself. … It’s a tough thing every night, but I always just warm it up and get it done.”
That iconic voice belts a string of hits by Bob Gaudio (music) and Bob Crewe (lyrics).
“It’s funny, in the show we have this thing called The Big Three, which was their first three big hits: ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man,’” Hacker said. “Those are some of their most iconic songs and we call them The Big Three because we do them one after another. It’s just a big, amazing part of the show.”
Hacker’s favorite part comes later in the show during Valli’s proverbial “dark night of the soul,” crooning his solo hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which different generations know from “The Deer Hunter” to “10 Things I Hate About You.”
“None of the radio program directors wanted this song because they thought it was an art project, but Bob Gaudio was persistent about it,” Hacker said. “You see how it came to be, then you finally hear the song. Each night when I perform it, I see loved ones holding each another because they heard this song at their wedding or it was the song they first danced to. I feel a sigh from the audience. No other song I’ve ever sang has done that. That’s one of the most amazing parts of the show, just to see that.”
The songs are paired with snappy dance moves by choreographer Sergio Trujillo.
“These red suits are so iconic and it looks so good when we’re doing it,” Hacker said. “Sergio Trujillo is our choreographer and he developed moves which are just so amazing. They’re so effortless, but they also look so amazing in the suits. He just really got the quality of the show. You get a feeling from the movement and the suit, it just puts you in that mindset. I always say they’re the best-feeling dance moves ever because they feel so comfortable. You never feel like you’re over-straining.”
It all unfolds against a distinct New Jersey backdrop, staged by director Des McAnuff.
“Back in this time, every street corner you’d have four guys under a street lamp singing doo-wop,” Hacker said. “That alone sets a huge picture in my mind. You think of a time in the 1950s when all these doo-wop groups were under street lamps. That’s how they practiced. When they started out, they were touring around to clubs and bowling alleys. … That’s how they come up with their name, The Four Seasons, at a bowling alley.”
Once the transformation is complete from street corner crooners to Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, the cast comes back out for a final audience sing-a-long.
“At the end of the show we do ‘Who Loves You’ and a reprise of ‘Oh What a Night,’” Hacker said. “The audience can’t not get on their feet. … The audience could be clapping barely throughout the entire show, but at the very end they’re on their feet singing along. I can never not have a good audience in a city because literally every single audience is on their feet at the end, which is just how this show affects people. At the end you just want to get up and dance to the music and reminisce.”
Find more details on the theater website. Hear our full conversation below:
toggle audio on and off change volume download audio November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)
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