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BWW INTERVIEWS: Michael David And Lauren Mitchell, Producers Of JERSEY BOYS

Hi, both, and welcome to London! Did you have a good time at the Oliviers?

Michael: We did! It's so unlike the Tonys. That's ours - it's in a theatre, it's televised, you're in your seats...
Lauren: There are 5000 people and you're miles away ftrom anyoNe You know...
Michael: That has its benefits. What's so great for us is being at a table with a glass of wine, and not everything you say is memorialised. We had a wonderful time - nothing at stake. It was like going to someone else's opening.

Who were you cheering on?

M: I can't say, that would be rude in a strange land! The evening has a sweetness to it. People seem to be talking to the people in the room rather than to a TV camera.
L: That's true.

Jersey Boys has done well in the What's On Stage awards previously, which are voted for by the audience - would you agree that there's something in the show that just grabs people and entices them back?
M: You make these things and hope that it's a good idea and that other people will like it, but you never think it'll multiply and resonate as much as it has. We couldn't be more grateful. And yes, you've hit on it. Its biggest strength is its word of mouth. We've been fortunate with the notices [reviews] but you rely on the audience, which is what it was from the beginning. We were imagining the worst in terms of critical response - it's the only way to do it. Even during previews we saw that it was gripping the audience.
L: People were bringing their friends back.
M: And when we're touring, you can't wait for the show to start - the show is its own best advertisement.

How did you become involved in it?

M: One of the writers, Rick Ellis, came to me, they sat there, Marshall [Marshall Brickman] hummed a few bars, and I think it was a song that we knew, but not being Seasons fans...
L:...or not knowing that we were...
M:...well, that's it. So we said we liked the idea, and they left us a treatment, 60 pages long. We looked at it, and said we'd like to work on developing it - Des [Des McAnuff] had worked with me for 20-odd years, it seemed right up his alley, so we all got together and the chemistry worked. Turned out that Des's first album ever was a Four Seasons album! It was wonderful serendipity.
L: Frankie and Bob had something very different in mind at first, like a story hanging together on the songs. In the course of the first meeting with Rick and Marshall, they decided, "Really, the story is the story you're telling us - your story." Bringing Des on took that forward.
M: We decided to run the Broadway gauntlet. Other things you've done inform things you're doing, and I think in a lot of ways Jersey Boys was informed by Tommy, which we did some years ago. As much as I loved it and think it should run forever, that was too big. It cost too much. It recouped, it did stuff, but in the end we didn't want this to be something that we loved but didn't pay.

Before you started on Broadway, did you think, "We've got something here"?
L: I don't think anyone thought we had what we have. We knew people liked it - we certainly knew that. Then previews began, and we began to realise that they really liked it. In terms of preparing, then, we wanted to make sure that people knew about it.
M: It's always a terrifying and thrilling experience to put this thing together, and then you have no control over what's going to happen to it, so nothing is better than being assured by people coming into this. These are American audiences. They beheved outrageously. This was in previews! I tend to avoid discounting, assuming that you want it to be the kind of thing that doesn't need discounting so you pretend it doesn't need discounting. We were at the half-price booth for one matinee and never went back. There suddenly was heat. You couldn't buy that. This oNe You could feel the momentum. It was a great feeling.

When did you start thinking about bringing it to London?
M: Every show is different. We weren't sure where this one would work and where it wouldn't. We wanted to be careful because it seemed to be getting bigger than we thought it might get. We thought the ordinary audience for this would be North America so we had to concentrate on taking advantage of it. Our tour began in San Francisco - the first manifestation of it outside Broadway. We planned to be there for 12 weeks, but thought it could do more than that - we stayed a year. We did Chicago, which we felt would be a really nice town for it. It kept making its case for itself. But honestly? Your country scares me.
L: We weren't sure how it would play out.
M: I don't know an audience here in the same way. So we were really careful. A transfer seemed inevitable. We love this country and we certainly love this town but we didn't need the thrill of opening in the West End - we've already done that. So we came in carefully, respecting The Situation, and we were shepherded through the process, and now we're two years old. We appreciate it.

Did you have to make many changes?
M: Shows are never finished. Wherever you're going, each manifestation is a glorious opportunity to do it again. This was the third or fourth incarnation.
L: There were technical tweaks.
M: That's the value of previews. I mean, even "jersey" is a cow or a sweater to you guys!
L: We changed the start. In many cases you need to be from New York to understand that, and we get that even in America as we move further west.
M: We stuck our noses in yesterday, and there are certain things that we changed in Vegas that are now reflected here.
L: There are things that amuse me - there's a line in the show about the Four Seasons and Vivaldi that gets a laugh here, but in some cities that gets nothing.

You've just had a cast change here in London.

M: That was one of the reasons we came over. We couldn't have been more pleased with the original cast. Before we came over, it was all "Can we find four guys here that seem naturally born in a place they don't know anything about? With that accent? With those attitudes?" People were saying, "You have to bring the boys over." I insisted we did it with boys over here - they've got to have people here to do it - and it was thrilling to find them. It was a surprise to some people. They were a great cast. People didn't know they weren't from Jersey!
L: Even we found that! You see them in the show and then go backstage - our Bob [Stephen Ashfield] is from Scotland, and I talk to him and then think, "Oh, yeah, right!"
M: After two years, which has got to be a long time saying the same lines and singing the same songs, no matter what you find in it, we've got some new boys and young women. People do stay for a long time. Why wouldn't you? It's been great and reassuring to know that now there are six guys, not to mention understudies, who can deliver this stuff.

It must be a challenge finding people to replace such a successful cast.
L: Our casting director knows the talent pool so well. But we never ran aground. Frankies are really hard to find, and so are Tommies.
M: Tommies are the hardest.
L: Harder everywhere. We've learned that if someone is of a certain height with a vocal range, we can put them into a Frankie boot camp and develop them. But Tommies, you can't really. Either you have that stage presence and confidence - you can't really fill that in.
M: We've done it so often now. We're finding out that the kind of places the Seasons began exist everywhere.

Are you allowed to have favourites?

M: That would be suicidal!
L: There are certain performances that I would love to put together.

Like a dream cast?

L: Yes! But they all work together where they are.
M: It's amazingly reassuring that even with the third swing on, the show still works. It's a nod to Rick, Marshall, Des and Bob that it holds together. It's not live or die on whether Frankie hits that note. It's good to know. It's a pleasure and I still enjoy it.
L: It's a real gift.

What do you have planned next?

M: We're looking in two directions - reach out north and west into Europe from here in London; there'll be another tour in the States too. And then in Australia, we'll go to Sydney and tour the bigger cities there and in New Zealand. The natural thing from there would be to head north to Australasia. But even articulating it I feel really stupid! We've had hits and tours, but this...
L: Just two years on Broadway would have been brilliant.
M: We couldn't feel more blessed.

Jersey Boys runs at the Prince Edward Theatre. Check back here soon for an exclusive interview with new Tommy DeVito, Jon Boydon!



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From This Author - Carrie Dunn

Carrie is the UK editor-in-chief for BroadwayWorld. After spending her formative years reading books and ending up with a Masters degree in English literature from (read more...)