BWW Interview: Johnny Wexler on being Frankie Valli in JERSEY BOYS' US Tour
JERSEY BOYS has been a Broadway favorite since the jukebox musical premiered in 2005. It can still be seen Off-Broadway at New World Stages, but in case you're not traveling to Manhattan any time soon, you can catch the show as it travels across America to a city near you.
The story of the Four Seasons wouldn't be complete without the character of the incomparable Frankie Valli, whose perfect falsettos gave the group its iconic sound. I caught up with Jonny Wexler in Atlanta, who's been playing Frankie on tour for his second season. He's been with the production for 5 years total, having played Joe Pesci for 3 seasons. Here's what he had to say:
What's the best thing about being part of the show?
I guess seeing the country and getting to go to so many different places. It's a very unique opportunity, and to get to bring the show to so many places and communities that wouldn't normally have access to a show like this is pretty special.
What's the worst thing about it?
(laughs) There's not too much that's bad about it. Maybe early morning bus rides, but I like it.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Canada, so I grew up there, and I've been in the states for over a decade now.
I noticed you were in one of my son's favorite children's shows, Disney's DOODLEBOPS, playing Moe. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I was in DOODLEBOPS! We were on the road with that for a few years as well. I was, like 20 when I did that. It feels like many moons ago, but it was quite a good show.
Tell us about your part in Jersey Boys:
Well, I play Frankie Valli, the lead singer of the band and of the group. It's a kind of this rags to riches story of four guys from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey that had no business doing this, but had a meteoric rise to the top of pop music and redefined the generation and the sound. His voice is the iconic sound--not the whole thing, but a huge part of that is built around his voice.
What do you do to get prepared, get into character, and keep it fresh each night?
There's a lot that goes into preparations for the show. A lot of it is physical prep work and focusing in on what's going to happen. In order to keep it fresh in terms of preparation, there's not much you really need to do, you just have to listen and respond truthfully and organically, and that's what keeps it fresh. There's a reason why it's been around for so many years and it really is one of the pinnacles of the genre of American Musical Theater. They've had a hit in every decade. I that way the Four Seasons and Frankie are kind of unique in that they had hits before the Beatles, during the Beatles, and after the Beatles.
Where did you get your training?
I got my theater training by doing theater. I've been doing it since I was 7 or 8 years old and have been working non-stop. I had a stint out in LA where there was a lot of training and classes, but in terms of formal academic theater education, I didn't do that. Instead, I went and made the Doodle Bops. I can still do back flips and break dance -- I took dance from a very young age and gymnastics. I'd also dance with my friends, so personal interests became professional interests if that makes sense.
Was it something you knew you wanted to do all along?
You definitely have that feeling as a young child and my first show--did I expect to go from playing an orphan in Oliver to leading a professional Broadway tour around? I don't know if the foresight was there for that but I always look at it as a sport in terms of you keep doing the next thing, moving up to the next level, and you keep going. There a host of factors that go into whether or not you keep going--your work ethic; and there's a little bit of luck, I suppose; your talent; and being dedicated, but then, I believe we all end up where we're supposed to in the end.
What advice would you give aspiring children who want to get into theater?
I was part of a fairly successful theater children's group where I grew up and definitely, those experiences are invaluable in getting..you could kind of say "reps" in. it's not unlike a sport in that way. Kind of, "how are you going to get your 10,000 hours?" if you know what I mean. I would say for me the thing I do is, if there's something I want to learn, or there's something I want to go to, I really try and seek out the top people that are available to teach that discipline. I guess at the end of the day, realize that the story people are interested in you telling in your story, and the thing we find captivating when we watch any artist no matter their medium would be the ability for them to show or tell their private truth in whatever format that is--whether it's writing a song, painting a picture, or pretending to play a character. That's the thing I would say to concentrate on as an artist. The thing we find exciting and captivating is authenticity. When you really see someone's authentic true story and true self and all of the colors and experiences that go into making that up--for me--that's what I find has a lot of gravitas as an artist, so I would say to concentrate on that.
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