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BWW Interview: New Orleans Welcomes Home Leslie Rochette in JERSEY BOYS

Foreground: Kristen Paulicelli, Leslie Rochette,
and Jesse Wildman
Background: Andrew Russell, Corey Greenan,
and Dru Serkes
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Returning to New Orleans this week is the musical that made the world fall in love with the Four Seasons all over again, JERSEY BOYS. First a superstar boy group from Jersey, then a hit musical, next a movie, and now we're getting to see the show once again on tour! Whether you realize it or not you know the music, so come see the story behind the music where all the "magic" happened - and by magic I mean love, heartbreak, loss, friendship, brotherhood, stress, struggle, money troubles, run-ins with gangsters, a little burglary, and a whole lot of talent to go with it.

No stranger to JERSEY BOYS, Leslie Rochette, a New Orleans native, will be coming home to perform in the Saenger Theatre for the first time since she launched her professional acting career. She has acted in JERSEY BOYS on the first national tour, now this second national tour, and will soon be joining the Broadway company for a short while. Continue reading to learn about Leslie's start in musical theatre, and about the show to which she and her husband owe quite a lot.

I was so excited to be interviewing someone with a 504 area code!
I know, I saw the 985 and was like, "yes, finally!"

Welcome home! What is going to be like for you to come back home and do a show in New Orleans?
I was in the first national tour, and now this is the second national. But, the last time the show came I was on the first national tour and we were playing in Indianapolis while the second national tour was playing in New Orleans. I had countless Facebook messages and texts and calls, "I'm coming to see you in JERSEY BOY," and I was like, "Wrong tour." So I've been waiting since that moment, I think that was February 2013, for us to come back. I've been dying for this.

So let's see about this... of course you can't take the New Orleanian out of the girl, so let's see if you can answer this question right. Where did you go to school?
I went to Mount Carmel Academy and NOCCA.

And there it is! Every time I ask someone that question who isn't from around here they answer with their college.
I know! Isn't that such a funny thing? That definitely stuck with me through the years.

How did you balance going to two high schools at once? [Sidenote: Mount Carmel Academy is a private/Catholic school in New Orleans, and NOCCA is the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts - a performing arts high school in the city]
So I did half day. We had a rotating block schedule at the time. I'm not sure if they're still doing that. But, so I was able to take classes in the morning, and then I would leave for lunch and eat lunch usually at home, and then for the rest of the evening I would be at NOCCA. So I think from about 1:00 until 4:00 I'd be at NOCCA.

Did you study theatre at NOCCA?
I actually studied dance until I tore my ACL there, and then the head of the musical theatre department was our jazz teacher in the dance department. After I tore my ACL he said, "Hey, can you sing or act? Why don't you come audition for me, and let's see if we can get you involved in musical theatre and see if you like that." So I did that and he was like, "Ok great, this will work out." He accepted me into the program, and then I fell in love with musical theatre after that so it was kind of a blessing in disguise.

Do you have any memories of going to see shows at the Saenger Theatre?
Yeah, I mean I pretty much saw everything that came through. I remember seeing SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and now I've met people that I've actually seen come through the Saenger. I'm like, "Oh, I saw SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER," and they were like, "I was in that!" And GREASE and stuff like that I remember seeing. I also did The Nutcracker with Hysell Academy of Dance, and we performed at the Saenger. I played a mouse and a soldier in The Nutcracker, so that's the last time I was ever on that stage, so it's gonna be different.

Were you on the dance team at Mount Carmel?
I did. I was a Carmelette.

Awesome! So, tell me what this show JERSEY BOYS is all about for people who are coming to the show and may not know anything about it.
JERSEY BOYS is the story behind Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and how they became a success. It's pretty much your basic rags to riches story, and I always like to say that it's kind of like... I don't know if you remember VH1 Behind the Music... it's like that, but with a whole rock concert. It's kind of a combination of both of those things. You just kind of get to see what has happened in Frankie Valli's life. It's basically about his life and the people that come in and out of it.

And then where does your character fit into the story?
I play Francine, and a bunch of other characters. In the first act we play The Angels. There's three girls in the show, and collectively we play The Angels and we sing "My Boyfriend's Back." I sing lead on that, and then I play a couple of waitresses, I play Nick's date in the church, and then in the second act I play Francine who is Frankie Valli's daughter and you get to see kind of the struggles she goes through having a father in the spotlight.

Man, that's a whole lot of characters to play in one show! I know that's pretty typical of professional shows. What's it like to flip flop around like that?
That's funny, I'm actually pretty much an ensemble girl through and through so I'm kind of used to it. I'm used to changing characters. It would always be... at NOCCA, for instance, we did SIDE SHOW and I played a harem girl and I also played a freak and a whole bunch of other different characters. Maybe that's not the best example, but you know like in HELLO DOLLY you'd play a girl on the street and then you'd play somebody's sister. I'm kind of used to it being an ensemble actress I guess.

Something else I found interesting about you is that your husband also has a history with JERSEY BOYS!
Yes! Well first of all he is a Jersey Boy. He is in the Broadway company right now, but he was also born and raised in New Jersey. He and I were on the first national tour together, and then we both jumped over to the second national tour once the first national tour closed, and now he's doing the show in New York.

Are there any other shows that you've done together?
Yeah, we actually met doing Happy Days: THE MUSICAL, which was on Long Island.

Are there any shows that you think would be especially fun to do together?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately because the show is closing in New York, so always thinking about the future. I would love to do LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS with him. I think we'd have fun doing GREASE together. HAIRSPRAY would be fun. My brain's always kind of working like, "Hmmm can we do that, and can we do that together?"

I imagine it has to be hard with him planted in New York right now and then you travelling on tour.
It is, but we have a bunch of weeks off actually though. It's kind of we're on for three weeks and then off for a week this year. It's not always like that, but it's definitely made it easier this year.

If you weren't playing your different ensemble roles and we did sort of a gender bender and you could pick one of the Four Seasons to play in the show, which one would you pick?
That's so funny, ummmm... I was telling somebody this last night, I would definitely want to play Tommy DeVito. I think I would relate the most to him, and I think he's the most fun character to play. I think Nick would be fun too, but I think I'd pick Tommy over Nick.

So between the last time JERSEY BOYS was in New Orleans and this week, there was this movie adaptation that came out. What did you think of it?
I thought they did a good job. I like our show. I think there's nothing like having live music and a live audience, but I think they did a good job with the movie.And, I also wanted to mention back with my husband and I being in the show together... so he's in the New York company and actually right after New Orleans I'm filling in for a girl in New York, so this will be our third company together. I'll be there for a couple of weeks. I thought that might be an interesting tid-bit to throw in.

For sure! I always love hearing stories like that. When we had the tour for JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT here, Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo were in it together which was really cute.

So to wrap us up, what are 5 things that you miss about living in New Orleans?
Well, of course I miss being by my family... by my momma. I miss the food. I miss the weather... I mean, that sounds crazy because it's very humid, but I don't like the cold, so I definitely miss the weather. I miss the energy of New Orleans. I've been to so many places, especially with the show being on tour. I've been all over the country, I've been to Japan. I've been to a bunch of places, but there's no energy like the energy in New Orleans. And, you know what, I miss being able to take a go-cup! I probably shouldn't say that! I probably shouldn't say that, but I mean there's nothing like being able to take your drink to-go on the street. [To clarify, in New Orleans, you can legally walk around on the street with open containers of alcohol.]

Oh my gosh, yes! I remember when the Saints were in the Superbowl and Miami relaxed their open container law with so many New Orleanians down there! But yeah, that's definitely something that's unique to New Orleans.
Yeah, when I moved away I was like what do you mean I can't take it with me?

Is there anything that you're wanting to take your castmates to do while you're in town?
I really want to take them, and I probably can't take the whole company because it's a tiny place, but Domilise's... there's this surf 'n turf po-boy, it's shrimp and roast beef and it is the best po-boy I've ever had. I kind of want to take them there. What else? I don't know, I think I'm gonna write a whole list for them, I have to think about it. Definitely down to Frenchmen Street to hear all the different bands. Stuff like that.

Well I'm so excited that JERSEY BOYS is back in New Orleans and that Leslie finally gets to come perform at home hopefully for her friends and family! Be sure to check her out along with the rest of the company this week at the Saenger Theatre. This is one of the best shows I've seen to date, and trust me you do not want to miss out on the JERSEY BOYS experience! Head over to www.saengernola.com for tickets and more information.

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From This Author Heidi Scheuermann

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