Arts & Culture

‘Jersey Boys’: Come for the music, stay for the story

New Jersey born-and-bred actor Brad Weinstock admits that it helps to be a real-life Jersey boy when playing Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys.”

“There’s a certain energy, a certain edge, a certain flavor that comes more naturally to me than to actors from other places. I have a leg up,” says Weinstock, who will be in Wichita when the 2006 Tony Award-winning best musical opens Wednesday in Century II for 16 performances sponsored by Theater League.

As far as doing justice to a real person’s legacy rather than interpreting a fictional character, Weinstock says it was intimidating – until, that is, he got a thumbs-up from Valli himself.

“He’s part of the creative and casting process for the show,” Weinstock says. “But because he’s still performing on the road himself at nearly 80, he’s not really involved day-to-day. But one day, he popped into rehearsal. I turned around and all of a sudden came face to face with him. I was intimated at first, but he’s really a nice man.”

Weinstock, who began in the Las Vegas production of “Jersey Boys” before being tapped about a year ago for this national tour, says Valli didn’t give him specific pointers on how to play him.

“Instead, he said he wanted me to bring my own energy to the role so it wouldn’t seem like just a Vegas impersonation or imitation. It’s a major responsibility to play him. It’s some pretty big shoes to fill,” Weinstock says, adding with a chuckle, “for two such small people.”

“Jersey Boys” was the brainchild of Bob Gaudio, one of the group’s original members. As songwriter, Gaudio is credited as the genius behind the distinctive sound of wide-ranging harmonies, contrasting low bass to Valli’s famous falsetto, rather than the tight harmonies popular during the 1950s and 1960s.

Gaudio and lyricist Bob Crewe teamed with writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to tell the story of the rise and fall and rise again of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons using 33 of the group’s legendary songs, such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.”

“It’s not just a jukebox musical. It’s sort of a docu-musical because Bob (Gaudio) insisted that it be a warts-and-all story rather than a glossy valentine,” says Colby Foytik, who plays Tommy DeVito, the bad boy of the group who loved to gamble, got involved with mobsters and spent time in jail – as did most of them at one point or another. There were also plenty of girls, booze, drugs and infidelity.

“It’s sort of a ‘Behind the Music’ approach. People come for the music that they love but stay around for the story – and it’s a very compelling story,” says Foytik, a Southern California native who was also in the Las Vegas production before being chosen for this tour. “It’s a guys’ musical about brotherly love. I think that’s why it’s stayed so popular.”

After taking the 2006 best musical Tony on Broadway, “Jersey Boys” won the 2008 best musical award in London and the 2010 best musical in Australia. It also won a Grammy for best cast album. There are currently six tours traveling the world.

“Tommy may be the bad boy, but he’s actually the backbone of the group. He’s the one who pulled a very young Frank Valli up on stage for the first time. Without him, the original group wouldn’t have existed,” Foytik says.

“But that said, Tommy did make a lot of bad personal decisions. He shot from the hip – and the lip. He was fearless and brash, which is something I’m not in real life. I met him (Tommy) when I was in the Vegas production, and he inspired me. He was 83. He was still this little bulldog full of energy and life.”

The show is cleverly structured in four parts – four seasons, as it were – with each of the four members narrating a section.

“Tommy opens the show with ‘Spring’ as the guys get together. Bob is next with ‘Summer’ as they hit their heyday. I’m ‘Fall’ where, well, they fall apart,” says Brandon Andrus, a Philadelphia native who plays Nick Massi, the first to leave the group in 1965 – only two years after it hit it big. “After being part of the group for seven years before it really took off, Nick realized that success didn’t make him happy. It wasn’t what he wanted to do anymore.”

The fourth “season” of the show is “Winter,” where Valli takes over narration as he steps out in front of the group as a solo artist. The show spans 35 years, from the 1950s to 1990, when the original four reunite one last time to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Andrus describes Massi as the mysterious one of the group.

“Nick was an enigma. If you asked 10 people what he was like, you’d get 10 different answers,” Andrus says. “He was the bass singer and bass guitarist. He had this amazing ability to hear harmonies. He could sing all the parts for the group. That’s how they learned their songs. But he never wrote anything down.”

Massi died of cancer at age 73 in 2000, so Andrus wasn’t able to meet him in person.

“In the show, I portray him as quiet. In real life, I understand he was a real charmer. … That’s the good part,” Andrus says. “But he was very honest that they were flawed guys. They weren’t saints. But he wasn’t judgmental. At one point, he says, ‘You sell $100 million in records and see how you handle it.’ ”

Seattle native Jason Kappus plays Gaudio, the youngest member, the last to join and the composer whose songs propelled the group to international fame in an era dominated by “The British Invasion” headed by the Beatles.

“Bob was a little more clean-cut than the other three. He was born in Brooklyn and raised in the suburbs. He was more of a Goody Two-shoes by comparison, while the others were in and out of jail,” Kappus says. “But he was a brilliant musical composer. Before him, the group didn’t have great songs.”

Because Gaudio is the main creator of “Jersey Boys,” Kappus says he was particularly nervous about his audition.

“Even though he is an incredible talent, Bob is easygoing, a real laid-back guy. He didn’t give me any personal notes about playing him. He was only concerned about capturing the distinctive Four Seasons sound,” Kappus says. “I was told that Bob wouldn’t be a problem. His wife, Judy, was the one I’d have to impress.”

Kappus says the “Jersey Boys” story of life on the road parallels his own feelings to a large degree.

“I didn’t expect the show to hit home for me so much. The hardest thing is to be away from your family while doing what you love. I just signed up for another year, and my wife of 10 years is traveling with us (as a merchandise seller in theater lobbies),” Kappus says.

“I’m sort of in mid-career, so playing Bob from a 17-year-old innocent through all the ups and downs and ups again gives me hope,” Kappus says. “ ‘Jersey Boys’ is the closest thing to job security for an actor because we know it will be around for a long time. This is the best of both worlds for us (him and his wife). We are living the dream together.”

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