BWW Interviews: The JERSEY BOYS Talk Durham Engagement this Fall
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by Larissa Mount
Get ready for the 2012-2013 season at the Durham Performing Arts Center! One of the major events this fall will be the arrival of the national tour of the 20th-longest running Broadway musical, Jersey Boys. At a recent event, I had the chance to chat with Matt Bailey (Tommy DeVito), Alayna Gallo (Lorraine and others), and Kevin Crewell (Bob Crewe and others) from the national touring company of Jersey Boys about the show, their experiences, and their acting beginnings. They had a lot to say, including some particularly nice things about the Durham Performing Arts Center as a venue.
Before I had a chance to get the cast to myself, ABC 11’s Angela Hampton talked about her experiences with the show and asked the cast a few questions. She proclaimed that the show is “infectious,” and “so much more than the music.” Hampton asked the cast about their audition process. Each cast member went through several auditions – the real Frankie and Bob are at the final audition for every cast member. When asked to describe the show, Alayna Gallo described it as “The Sopranos meets VH1 Behind the Music.” In a special video exclusive for DPAC, book writer Marshall Brickman said that seeing the show “won’t be the worst thing you’ve ever done.” Actor Matt Bailey even went so far as to say, “I dare anybody to come to Jersey Boys and not enjoy themselves.”
BWW: Jersey Boys has been around a long time now. What can fans who have seen the show before expect when they see it for a 2nd or 3rd time?
Kevin Crewell: Well, there’s so much that goes on, I feel like if you really do want to see everything, you need a good two or three shots at it.
Alayna Gallo: My mother has seen it at least 20 times, and every single time, she’s like “Oh, Alayna, I had no idea that this, this, and that happened.” She will still see it another 20 times.
KC: That’s the indicator – mom will keep seeing it…
AG: Yeah, and everybody that says that. It’s a show that they say that they would like to see it again. So much is happening and you start seeing other little tiny details and you’re like “Oh my God, that’s amazing.”
BWW: What’s the experience like joining a show that’s already established itself as a phenomenon?
AG: Wow. Um…
KC: I love it. I mean, I loved it. It was because the work’s kind of done for you. They’ve already carved this brilliant piece of theater and art out, so…
AG: But also, I feel it was also a little nerve-wracking to meet the expectation that it’s been at for so long. And just being a part of something that’s so much larger than us is so overwhelming. But then once you get the hang of it, you’re like, “oh, this is what it’s about.” And everyone’s always great and friendly and welcoming. So…
KC: Always? Always? [laughter]
AG: [laughter] I think so!
KC: Alayna ignored me our first three days. No, I’m just kidding. (laughter) She didn’t. I mean, it’s one of those shows that all you really gotta do is jump on the train at the beginning and ride it.
AG: Oh, yeah.
KC: Some shows, you feel like you’re kinda pulling, having to do work to compensate maybe that the material’s not so great or something like that. And this, boy, all you really gotta do is kind of get out of the way because the material’s just so good.
BWW: How is playing real people different from playing characters who are pure fiction? Is the process different?
AG: Actually yes, because when I first started, I was given a book of the dramaturgy, of the history of everything, from what New Jersey was like at that time, what the working class was like at that time, what was going on in the 50s, and about the character that I primarily play, Lorraine, which is his [Frankie’s] girlfriend towards the end of the show. I mean, I have three meaty scenes, but there was all this information about this woman. They are down to the detail. It’s like this is something you can really research and see who these people were, are, and their families and their lives, so I would say that that was kind of a different process because in most shows it’s all fictional for the most part. And you want to uphold the truth, because you can’t change the truth.
KC: And it’s figuring out how much do you bring of yourself to it, and how much do you stay true to this person. This person, like [Alayna] said, that you can actually find out how they talk, how they walk, what they look like. But then, sooner or later, it’s me on stage. It’s me on stage, so where am I using Kevin and where do Kevin and Bob Crewe intermingle, and where are we different? Figuring that out.
AG: Yeah, like how can I do this woman justice?
KC: Yeah, rather than if you are creating a fictional character, I feel like it’s a bit more about, “okay, how does Kevin think about this in this situation?” There’s this whole other, you know, real-life person.
AG: I think it makes our jobs somewhat easier, but definitely more intimidating. Because you have to get it right.
KC: Yeah. But exciting, too. It’s especially exciting when somebody’s like, when you feel like you’ve nailed their essence. That’s exciting. There’s something a little more, I don’t know why I keep going back to Beauty and the Beast, but like “have I nailed the essence of the beast?”
AG: Do you have something against Beauty and the Beast? (laughter)
KC: No! Or for it. But when somebody tells you about this wonderful person, this wonderful work, I’m like there’s a similar essence, a shared essence, it lands for some reason a little bit more than when they’re like “Lancelot in Spamalot, you just nailed it.” It’s a little more, I don’t know what the word is, but it lands.
AG: Well, you can’t meet Lancelot.
KC: Right, right.
AG: You can still meet a majority of these people.
BWW: What is it about Jersey Boys that gives it that special something that’s kept it going? I know that’s a big question.
KC: It’s not for me – the music. The music.
AG: I mean, there’s so many things for me. I think it’s the best modern-day musical. It’s finally one of those – I don’t even want to call it a jukebox musical – but they finally got it right, with the music and the story, and the characters, and sets, costumes, and everything. They finally got it right in molding the two and yeah, the music. I’ll go back to the music. Yeah.
KC: All those things are brilliant. The book is, the staging is so, boy, you know you don’t think – you probably wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of dancing in this show, but there is the movement and the way that Sergio [Trujillo, choreographer] keeps the show moving the whole time. All that stuff is so wonderful, but for me, it always goes back to the music.
AG: But I also think that a lot of people have this fascination with people from Jersey. [Laughter]. Especially, in the last five years. All of a sudden, if not just America, the world is fascinated, like, with this little tiny state.
KC: Those kooky characters. [laughter]
AG: And they are kooky, but they’re so real, and they’re so loveable, and…
KC: And you relate.
AG: Yeah, oddly enough, you can relate, and you’re like “wow,” you know? They’re pretty cool people.
BWW: How do you keep the material fresh after so many performances?
AG: I mean, honestly, for me it’s easy because it’s so fast-paced, because I’m playing 17 different roles at a time.
KC: You guys don’t have time to think! [laughter]
AG: I really don’t. And the second that beat starts, the first before Ces Soir [hums the music], we’re on. We’re all on. And there’s no turning back. So, it’s easy for me.
KC: Mine, I get a lot of time down in the dressing room. [Laughter] To sit in my Italian suits. I mean, that’s where I think technique comes in. That’s where when we study, when you work on your craft and all of that. That’s where technique comes in. If you’re having a bad day personally, a bad day physically, any of that stuff, that’s when your technique of who are you talking to, what it’s about, what do you want, all of those things. The craft, I think, of acting, comes in to keep it fresh. There’s stuff about when new people come in and out of the show, that always gives it a nice little fresh spritz. You know, if you have an understudy on. If, all of a sudden, the person you’re across from is different. Audiences, every single night are different. Every single night. So, they’re the last piece of the puzzle. So, if they’re more tired, more excited, if they are rowdy, if they’re a little timid, then they add to the production in one way or another, which makes it different every single night. But, I call BS on actors that are like, “Um, it’s not different, every…” No. It is different. Totally different every single night.
BWW: Have you noticed different vibes in different cities?
Matt Bailey: For me, it was always how well you can hear the audience. There’s some theaters that are so intimate that they’re so loud, you can literally hear comments that people are saying.
KC: That’s the best. [laughter]
MB: A lot of people will whisper things to each other during the show, and a person who, when someone tells a joke, they’ll laugh, and then they’ll say the joke to themselves. But, I’ve had people literally answer my rhetorical questions from the audience.
KC: [laughter] Right, right.
MB: You know, not even yelling them out, but just being like “oh, that’s not true,” and you’re like “I can hear you – it’s not a movie.”
KC: Well, actually, the way that this theater’s built, too, is just perfect (referring the Durham Performing Arts Center). Because, in some theaters around the country, your first row is maybe ten feet back. And that doesn’t lend so well to an intimate type of story, or intimate way of acting or talking. The fact that, boy, I could be right at the proscenium, and somebody’s right there, is just perfect.
MB: That was the first thing I noticed when I walked out on stage, is how there’s the audience almost flooding all the way to the front, underneath.
BWW: And I’ve sat in that row. It’s nice.
MB: That’s one of the things I love about playing Tommy. I’m the first person, one of the first people, to come downstage, and I start talking directly to the audience, and to have those people so close and looking right up at you, you can almost hear them breathing. That’s exciting, and you really feel like everyone’s listening and involved and it has that intimate sort of feeling like this, even though it’s almost 3,000 seats, is a really special thing.
BWW: What was your first experience with theater?
MB: I played Batman AND a string bean in my kindergarten play of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
KC: Kindergarten? Wow?
MB: … I have a video of this. This is how I know this so well.
KC: I want to see it!
BWW: Is that when you knew that this was the career for you?
KC: Don’t you dare lie and say yes. Don’t you dare lie.
MB: No. It wasn’t at all. But it did make me hate string beans forever, I think. [laughter]
KC: To this day, he breaks out in a flop sweat when he sees [green beans]…
MB: It wasn’t until college, when I took, literally, an Acting 101 class, and my TA was like, “what’s your major?” and I was like, “I don’t have a major,” and he was like, “why aren’t you auditioning for the program?” and I said “I don’t know. I will do that.” So, you know, I always wanted to do stuff through high school, but it was always during other things I was doing, whether it was jazz band or basketball, or whatever it was at the time, summer camp. There was always some sort of conflict. So, I feel like it took me to get to college where my schedule was free and I could be like, “alright, what do you want to do?” And I was like “okay, I’m going to act now.”…
KC: Mine, the earliest I remember – 2nd grade, Rip Van Winkle. And I had to share the role… I had this awful beard. I do remember that. Mrs… oh, I don’t remember her name. I can see her face, and I don’t remember her name. But that is not when I realized I wanted to do acting. When I realized I wanted to do it was 8th grade, I played Scrooge in Scrooge the Musical, and they tried to get me to dance. And they tried to get me to do a bell kick. And, I wouldn’t do it, speaking of, one day I’d go to football practice, believe it or not I would, and the other day I’d go to play rehearsal. And, opening night, they get to Scrooge is happy, and he’s not mad at Tiny Tim anymore, and I sing some song about it. I don’t remember why I did the bell kick, but I did the bell kick, and the audience went ca-razy, and I did four more, I think. I just kept doing it, I just kept doing bell kicks anyplace I could throw it in.
MB: He did three on the way here, actually…
Jersey Boys opens at the Durham Performing Arts Center on October 30, and runs through November 18, 2012. For tickets and more information, visit www.dpacnc.com.