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BWW Interviews: Las Vegas JERSEY BOYS Travis Cloer and Buck Hujabre Talk JERSEY BOYS and Life Lessons

BWW Interviews: Las Vegas JERSEY BOYS Travis Cloer and Buck Hujabre Talk JERSEY BOYS and Life Lessons

Buck Hujabre plays Bob Gaudio in the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys. He grew up in Louisiana and has lived in New York City but now calls Las Vegas home. Buck is the first generation American born to Afghani parents. As a child he was encouraged to pursue a profession such as being a doctor or lawyer due to his Middle-Eastern background. However, his parents were very supportive of his passions no matter if it was soccer, drum line or playing the violin. But, when he decided what he wanted to do with his life, his parents encouraged him to pursue a degree as a doctor. The fact that Buck didn't get into performing until high school was also a reason he didn't initially pursue a musical theater degree. After attending Louisiana State University, Buck applied for several medical school programs and was actually accepted. However, after spending sometime in New York City performing, Buck decided that medical school was not in the cards and theater was his true calling.

On the other hand, Travis Cloer who plays Frankie Valli grew up in Kansas City and attended Kansas State University and has a degree in musical theater. Travis has always been interested in theater and knew he wanted to make it a career.

BWW caught up with them recently backstage before a show and asked them about living in Vegas and their experiences of being in Jersey Boys.

How long have you been involved in the Jersey Boys productions?

Buck: I was first cast in Jersey Boys January 2008. It was my dream show. I still can't believe it's a real deal. I still can't believe I'm actually in this show. I went into the show about a month later and joined the First National Touring Company as Ralph Knuckles or Billy Dixon has he's credited in the show. They told me, "Look, we're actually hiring you for a different track" because I played drums and guitar. They knew at that time that the guy in the show would be leaving. So they hired me as an insurance policy to bring me in and about a month and a half after I played the original role, they moved me into the other role. I did that for about three and a half years. Then, we had our baby boy on the road, got pregnant with our second. They toured with me the whole time and I told my producers I'd like to be able to come off the road but I can't stay out there. And they said, "How do you feel about going to Vegas?" That has been two and a half, so totally it would be coming up on completing my master's degreein JERSEY BOYS which will be about six years this March.

Travis: I've been with the show almost eight years now. I was with the show on Broadway for a year and a half and then I moved out here when we opened. I was actually living in Nashville when I got this job. I heard of the show, I saw it performed on the Tonys and I saw them perform on the Thanksgiving Day Parade and I was like, "Man, I gotta get involved in that show somehow." So I made a demo of me performing some Frankie Valli songs and sent it to the producers. They held on to it and actually listened to it. When auditions came up, they gave me a call and I flew to New York and auditioned for the show and the rest is history.

These performances are almost like a concert. How does that feel?

Buck: The very first time I saw Jersey Boys, I remember thinking, the actors that have been cast in this are going to be ruined for doing anything else in musical theater because of the way that the crowd was so vocal so early so many times during the show. It's very rare that you have three and four standing ovations during the course of one performance. When I finally got cast in the show and witnessed the audience's reaction from the other side of the footlights, I realized this was a very, very, very special thing and that this would probably not come around again in my career; a show like this, the audience relates to and is so vocal about. It's thrilling. It's a drug. It's the most adrenalin fueled thing I've ever experienced because there's so many people that go on this journey with you and want to know the real story of what happened behind the music that they've grown up listening to.

What about the Jersey Boys movie? Did either of you audition?

Buck: I went and auditioned for it but I found out that the role I auditioned for never made the movie. I figured I would have booked it had the role made the movie. It was exciting to see that many friends in a movie together was really surreal.

Travis: It was great. I think Clint Eastwood came out here and saw the show. He was making his rounds to all the different productions around the country. He saw us and invited a handful of us to come audition so we did. And some of the guys actually booked the gig which is really cool. We both have worked with so many people in that film on this particular show alone. It was great to see everybody up there doing their thing.

What did you think of it? I wish it had done better.

Buck: I think it was a matter of timing.

Travis: I do too. I think the way the movie was directed was not really him directing a musical. It was him directing a story about guys that just happened to sing music. When you look at it that way, it's not a musical, that's a story about a band. It's not a musical.

Travis, you have other music that you do on the side.

Travis: I've released a CD that's basically a bunch of my favorite jazz standards and it's a genre of music that I truly love. I've got such an interest in a bunch of different genres. Most of the things that I write tend to sound more like the pop country era. I enjoy singing jazz. It's one of my absolute favorites. I've actually done a couple of shows here at the new Smith Center downtown. It's something that I love to do. I'll try anything. I love music and I love singing. I pride myself on being a very versatile vocalist which is a curse and a blessing because you can do a lot of things but it's hard to pinpoint one exactly to focus on and maybe take you to a next level.

Buck, have you ever thought about doing a solo album?

Buck: It's something I've always been interested in but don't necessarily find myself driven towards. I don't know why that is because I feel like I should have more of that in me. Maybe one day I'll find that I do end up one day wanting to do that. I admire so many people that are able to step out of the acting world and do that effectively and crossover. Maybe someday I will but my passions are a little bit elsewhere.

Travis: It's a whole different bag. I shouldn't say easy but it's easier to be in a production like this where you're portraying someone else as opposed to getting up on stage in a cabaret atmosphere where you have to entertain people as yourself.

Buck: I have a show that I did convention work in Vegas and on cruise ships that was a cabaret setting with a big band and to make that work, I was forced to have persona that goes with that guy. So, it is you, but it's a variation of you which is interesting because at the end of the day then that becomes acting. That becomes exaggerating a certain trait about yourself that will be more palatable to a larger audience.

What life lessons have you learned by doing Jersey Boys?

Buck: The big line in this show is Family is Everything. I was certainly raised that way. My belief system has always been that way but I had a new appreciation for it specifically in doing Jersey Boys in terms of that life lesson in that we're telling a story about someone who has nothing, who then gets everything and then loses everything only to have to get it again. Frankie, he lost a daughter that we tell the story of here but there's actually more to it than that. You have these guys that had to work so hard that nobody would spend any time with and it gives you an appreciation of how difficult what they've achieved has done. That's the biggest one that I learned specifically. The other one is that in show biz or anything, it's keep your mouth shut and your nose clean and try to treat everybody the way you want to be treated.

Travis: Let me preface this by saying I'm not an egotistical person by any means but I've had to check my ego at a lot of things especially singing a role that's difficult and particularly in a climate like Las Vegas. First of all, being this character you have the tendency to say, "I'm portraying a superstar and people are seeing me as a superstar therefore, I'm a superstar." But, that's not necessarily the case. There are hazards that go along with singing this role. A few years ago, I hemorrhaged a vocal chord in the middle of a show. I wasn't not taking care of myself but I wasn't taking care of myself the way that I needed to take care of myself. That was a knock in the gut. I was out of the show and absolutely quiet for three weeks while my voice healed. Then I had to do rehabilitation and then come back and step foot onstage again and try to sing this show after that. So my ego was, "You know what? You're not superman. You have to take a break." I finally sat down and said, "OK, I'll take the voice lessons." Before that I thought, "Oh, I can do it. I don't need the voice lessons. I know what I'm doing." But now I realize that everybody can constantly grow no matter how good you think you are. There's no room for ego if you want to continue to better yourself. That's the big one that I learned.

And that carries over to no matter what your career.

Buck: Absolutely. And learned this once I got to New York, there's always going to be somebody younger, better, hungrier and faster than you. It's an old musical theater lyric that says, "Another hundred people got off the bus today." It's very, very true and if you do let things like ego get in the way, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. It's true. You have to be careful. You have to remember where you stand because all of this greatness that comes along with doing a show like this can be taken away in a heartbeat.

If you had not become a performer, what would you have done?

Buck: This is going to sound can take the boy out of the south but you can't take the south out of the boy, I more than likely would have been in the medical field. If I was a betting man, I'd say 95%. But, I am a passionate NHRA Drag Racing fan and I would not have put it past myself to be driving a 330 mile dragster if I hadn't ended up being an actor.

Travis: I'm a big animal lover and I was a kid, I always wanted to be a vet. For some reason, that kind of took second seat once I realized I enjoyed singing so much. So I think that I might have very easily gone down that path. I can't say for sure but that's where I could probably see myself going.

Do you have any advice for people thinking about getting into show business?

Travis: DON'T! Don't give up. There, I finished it.

Buck: I've always thought that if there's anything else that you can be passionate about, you owe it to yourself to explore it. Real estate has been a passion of mine since I was 16 years old and I explored that and it's been a very fantastic business for my family. Because you have to know that this is something you can do 50%. Nobody says that when you are studying to be a doctor, you have to have something to fall back on. It used to always drive me nuts when people would say you're going to be an actor you have to have something to fall back on like you're not fully committed to pursuing this. This is a very, very, very difficult business. The older I get, the harder I realize it is to do. You owe it to yourself to find out what else you have passions in because that will only inform you as an actor. If you know a lot about real estate, one day I may end up being on a TV show where I have to play a real estate developer. The medical thing has certainly helped me with a lot of auditions and parts that I've played where you learn the terminology and have an understanding of how the business works. Be as well rounded as you can and find out a little bit about a lot of things.

Travis: That kind of goes along with what I think. Once I realized that I enjoyed singing as much as I do, I realized that there's this huge part of me that I had opened up. There hasn't really been any other passion in my life as far as what I wanted to do with my life. I can't think of a single thing. It's always been focused on singing. Because of that, I've had to develop this tenacity and this focus of not only pursuing it and working at it like Buck said and staying hungry at it, but times when you're not necessarily performing say in a wonderful show like Jersey Boys on the Las Vegas strip, finding ways to continue making a paycheck as a singer or as an actor instead of having to go wait tables for three years in between gigs. Buck and I both developed our own shows and worked out on cruise ships for a while. We've done various things inside of the performing circle but not necessarily onstage or on television or in movies in a leading role or something like that. I would tell people to keep that in mind. Just because you're not starring in a Broadway show doesn't mean that you're not a success as an entertainer.

Buck: The most appealing thing to me is that there's no guarantees and I'm a big risk taker in my life. You never know what will be coming. If I wake up in the morning, I'm like, "Alright, we can only go up from here. I woke up today. This is fantastic." It's a difficult business. It's a heartbreaking business. The number of times I had my heart broken in one week in New York City or Los Angeles...It still happens but at different levels.

For tickets to see the JERSEY BOYS at the Le Theatre Des Arts at Paris Las Vegas, go to their website. It's an entertaining event not to be missed when visiting Las Vegas.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kathy Strain

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