BWW Interview: Eric Chambliss of JERSEY BOYS on focus, feedback and Frankie Valli
JERSEY BOYS is a Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award-winning production that spent a whopping 11 years on Broadway, and has been touring the country off and on since 2006. In fact, as of January 2019, over 26 million people had seen the show.
The musical tells the fascinating, oft tumultuous behind-the-music story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, ordinary guys with extraordinary talent, for whom life seemed too good to be true.
We chatted with Eric Chambliss, who stars as Bob Gaudio, about inhabiting the role of one of music's most prolific and prominent figures. JERSEY BOYS is a feel-good story for the ages - suitable for all ages - but be warned: you will absolutely leave with an earworm.
Why is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons important?
It's a story about four guys who find their way out of some pretty rough neighborhoods. Tommy DeVito states in the beginning of the show, "you could join the army, you could get mobbed up, or you could become a star."
This journey of four working class guys hitting the big time is something that seems to resonate with a classic American ideal; despite where you originate, with the right work ethic and opportunity you can achieve great things.
The Four Seasons' biggest hits were released in the 1960's. How do younger audiences respond to this show?
Younger audiences tend to love the show! It's a great representation of the time period and a library of iconic songs that younger people know, more often than not. Bob and Frankie did such a good job distributing their music into movies, commercials, and many other places. So, a Four Seasons song pops up more often than people even realize.
You've previously portrayed well-known, fictional characters - Tulsa in Gypsy, Perchik in Fiddler, Ethan in The Full Monty... tell me about the experience of portraying Bob Gaudio, the prolific singer, songwriter, musician, and producer... who is very much alive and well!
The benefit of portraying a real-life figure, especially one that is alive and well, is that you have the source material of people who know him and, in a modern age, a whole internet full of additional videos and such. Luckily, we are in very capable hands, when it comes to learning this show. The people we work with have years of experience with this piece of theatre, and plenty of knowledge about who each of these guys are and were. So, the dramaturgy alone is a useful guide.
Did you approach this role differently, armed with the knowledge that Mr. Gaudio could very well be in the audience? What was it like meeting him in person?
Meeting Bob himself was a fantastic experience. You work hard on the road to represent their legacy as best as you possibly can, and for him to show up to show they are still invested in the product they created back in 2005 is always a reassuring notion. He cares about the show and how it's going, which is very much spirit-lifting for the people out on the road.
Has he offered you any advice or feedback?
Bob is also always quick to relate. His advice to me was less about the show itself, which he was happy with in Atlantic City, and more about the life of touring. He told me to always choose the same side of the bed to sleep on, that way at least there's some familiarity each morning.
What has playing the role of Bob Gaudio taught you about yourself?
I've certainly learned that I have a similar approach to things as Bob does from time to time. I like to be a generally pragmatic person, and I think a lot of Bob's success in his career stems from him being able to apply the right amounts of focus and get the job done.
We were so thrilled to hear that you got engaged at the beginning of this year - best wishes!
Thank you for the congratulations!
With that in mind, what's the most difficult part of being on tour?
One of the most difficult parts of touring is certainly the distance from the people and places you care about. Luckily, my fiancée, Nicole Ferguson, is an actor as well (currently on the MY FAIR LADY tour). So, we have a lot of understanding for this lifestyle and what it requires of the other.
And what do you find most rewarding?
The job itself is quite rewarding. The appreciation that you receive from the audiences, facing a hard week in the schedule but maintaining a good quality to the production, getting to see new places. All of these things are the reward of tour life. Sometimes the smallest places we tour are the most rewarding, because although there is not much around town, there is plenty of gratitude from the people who see the show. And for that we are thankful... and for Domino's pizza which is sometimes the only thing open after a show.
The original Broadway cast recording of Jersey Boys - produced by Mr. Gaudio, I should add - has been certified platinum. If you had to select just one favorite song to perform from the Four Seasons' mammoth catalog, what would it be?
I do have to say my favorite song to perform is "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)". It's hard to get sick of that groove. My favorite song, however, is "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." I love the way it's presented in the show and I have the best spot in the house to watch our Frankie Valli sing it each night.
When people leave the Hobby Center after seeing Jersey Boys - some for the first time, others for the umpteenth - how do you hope they feel?
I hope they feel lifted in spirit by some quality music, and refreshed, by stepping out of their normal day and escaping into a night of theatre.