BWW Interviews: JERSEY BOYS' Jason Kappus
Coming to the Mahalia Jackson Theater on January 8 is the national tour of the hit show JERSEY BOYS, which allows audiences a close up look at Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons' rise to stardom. The show features hit songs "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like a Man." I recently spoke with Jason Kappus, who plays Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio, about the show, the music, and life on tour.
I'm new to this show, I've actually never seen it before. All I know is what I've read, and what I've read sounds like the show is a big party. For someone who has not seen the show, tell me what it's about. What can I expect to see?
So its basically the back stage story, sort of like a VHI behind the scenes, of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons starting from when they were kids in Jersey expanding over 40 years to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's sort of a rags to riches back to rags back to riches story because what people find interesting is what they had to go through to become successful, and once they attained success how to deal with that.
So these are real people that you guys are playing. These are not just made up characters. What is it like playing someone who is a real person as opposed to a fictional character?
It has pros and cons as an actor. Some actors don't like to do that because they prefer to create a completely original character, but it's a nice resource to look at newspaper articles and YouTube videos of them performing. And, in my case, I got to spend time with Bob Gaudio, who is one of the Four Seasons who I play. He's pretty involved with the show and is there for auditions and callbacks. He was there for previews and gives his input. So it was a treat to get to meet that person and spend time with him and let that inform what I do on stage.
Did you prepare for your role in Jersey Boys any differently than you have in other roles since you are playing an actual person?
I mean yeah it's just to a certain extent doing that research about these guys on the internet and through their albums because, while we are bringing our own takes to these characters who have been on Broadway and touring for 7 years now, we still are paying respect to these real guys. So yeah we all spent time with those videos and recreating the iconic sound that they have.
Now, I read that you're originally from Seattle and that you were in the regional production of Catch Me If You Can before the show hit Broadway. What was it like working on that show?
Well, I'm not actually from there, but that's where I call home. That was a blast. Norbert Leo Butz has been one of my idols for a long time, so working with him was a real treat. And the entire creative team, they're just musical theatre royalty as far as modern people out there. That show was a real pleasure for Seattle actors and theatre goers. And I moved out to New York when the show was on Broadway so I got to see it on Broadway too, which was really cool.
That's also a story about a real person and real events. Did that help prepare you for what you're doing now with Jersey Boys?
Not so much personally because in that production I was in the ensemble, so it wasn't the same depth of research. But, I still had to prepare myself to get into that time period and style.
So getting back to Jersey Boys, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were very popular during the 60s and 70, so the music is probably more familiar to your middle aged to older audience members. Do you find younger audience members appreciate the music as much as, say their parents' or grandparents' generations?
You know yeah the funny thing about the music is how it's stood the test of time. I know for myself being one of the younger generations, I knew easily 80% of the songs just from pop culture. You hear them in movies and TV commercials and they're still being covered and re-done by modern musical artists and groups, so everyone who comes to the show knows probably 80% of the songs no matter what their age is. They just may not realize it's a Four Seasons song.
Is there an added pressure when you perform each night knowing that so many people are coming to the theater expecting to hear the songs they grew up listening to re-created for them? Do you feel a pressure to "get it right"?
Yeah you know that was kind of an expectation we had before we hit the road with the show, but that's not really the reality of it. People are just so excited to hear this music, we don't care much about the judgment. It's so nostalgic it just really takes people back. Everyone is always so thrilled that we're doing it and they get to rewind to their first dates when they hear "Can't Take My Eyes Off You". The seem to really love it.
Are there any certain songs that audiences seem to strongly respond to that, in turn, energizes you as a performer?
I would say, and this is a credit to the way the show is put together, there's a section that we call the "big 3." We perform "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like a Man" back to back. These were some of their biggest hits. It's about 40 minutes into the show and up to that point you feel they've been waiting to hear those songs. You get tidbits here and there. But, very smartly when they created the show, they hold off on giving you that payoff for a while, and then the energy that builds up when we finally do those is really amazing. The audience, generally speaking, goes nuts and its very energizing for us.
Do you have a favorite song from the show to listen to or perform?
You know it tends to move around. But, one of my favorites is "Cry For Me," which is one of those lesser-known songs that comes up earlier in the show. And, in the show my character writes it and chooses to do it as an audition for the group because he's the last one to join. He starts playing this song and one by one the others chime in and it's the first time you hear the four boys sing together and you hear that sound everyone is expecting to hear. It's an intimate scene with just the four of us standing around a piano, so it's a nice time for us to check in with each other.
How relatable is this story to your own life? After all, these were four guys who were on tour performing together, and you are in a cast of people on tour performing together!Does the show sort of parallel your life on tour?
Yeah that was another thing that struck me. It took me by surprise because, yes, slowly but surely our own lives mirror what we're portraying in the show. Not necessarily gambling debts and mob connections and jail time, knock on wood, but we talk about your real family and your road family. I'm personally lucky that my wife travels with me so I get to check that hardship off the list, but we travel with about fifty people and that's our family on the road and we take care of each other and do everything families do. So, we're on stage saying these lines and it makes it very easy as an actor to relate to.
Do you have a favorite tour moment since you've been travelling with this cast?
Well, I don't necessarily have a favorite. I'm bad at keeping lists like that, but something that pops into mind is, you know sometimes this job affords us some fun opportunities, and there were about 16 of us cast and crew. We sang the national anthem at the Colorado Rockies game in Denver, so that was pretty exciting.
See JERSEY BOYS at the Mahalia Jackson Theater starting this Tuesday, January 8. The show will continue here in New Orleans for most of the month through January 27. For tickets and other information see the Mahalia Jackson Theater and Jersey Boys Tour.