The smash hit musical Jersey Boys returns to Melbourne from 10 January, opening at the Princess Theatre. Jan Chandler managed to catch up with Graham Foote during a busy promotional tour in Melbourne last week.
The current Four Seasons, Graham Foote (Frankie Valli), Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio), Anthony Harkin (Tommy de Vito) and Glaston Toft (Nick Massi), have been performing together since Jersey Boys opened in Auckland in February 2012. Part of a virtually new company they, found themselves without friends or family and dependent on each other for after hours entertainment. Ten of the cast moved into an apartment complex and as Foote says, “it was like an expensive school camp!” They had four months of shared experience and as a result they are all very close friends. This closeness, Foote tells me, helps them to keep the freshness necessary over a long run.
One of the particular challenges for Foote is the stamina required to continually capture the distinctive vocal quality of Frankie Valli’s falsetto.
“I don’t know why anyone would ever sing in that style if they weren’t trying to impersonate Frankie Valli because it is so unique” says Foote.
Even more demanding than the singing, which can be mastered by hard work in rehearsal, is pitching the dramatic dialogue.
“It’s being able to develop that truthfully, while also retaining some energy in the tank to give the audience the vocal sound they’ve come to hear.”
So what is so special about Jersey Boys – a musical which currently boasts seven productions around the world, with the Australasian company touring continuously for four years.
Foote thinks he knows some of the answers. Whilst the songs are harmonically simple pop songs with a doo-wop style backing, it is Frankie Valli’s falsetto that is really unique. “… it leapt off the airwaves and was unlike anything that had ever been heard before.”
That was back in the 60s, now the songs have become so completely embedded in popular culture that no matter what your age you will have heard them.
“If you are living in western civilsation and haven’t heard ‘Oh What a Night’ or ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ I’d love to know where you’ve been because those songs are just there” he said.
“You may not know that they are by The Four Seasons, you may not even know who Frankie Valli is, but you’ll know that voice and you’ll know those songs.”
[pull_left]Melbourne is bursting at the seams, jumping out of their skins to get us back. It’s a real thrill to be involved in something like that[/pull_left]
But it’s not just the songs and the singer that make the musical so successful. As far as Foote is concerned, the success of the show goes much deeper. The Four Seasons were experienced and talented musicians long before ‘Sherry’ hit the pop charts in 1962. They had spent years gigging and living their lives. Their life experience fuels their music, their vocal delivery, they way they play guitar and the way they write their lyrics, Foote explained. Whereas today there is a tendency for people to release music to be famous, almost as if being famous is a job now, “back in the 60s people became famous because they were really good.”
The personal stories of the individuals who formed The Four Seasons, as revealed in Jersey Boys, is the heart and soul of the show. Jersey Boys may be built on amazing songs that everyone knows and loves, but until now, few knew the story behind the music. Talking with fans and audience members after the show, Foote finds that they almost never talk about the music, but rather express their surprise at not having known the story of The Four Seasons before this.
“That’s what resonates with people in the theatre and it’s what stays with people after the show has finished”, he explained.
If pre-sales vox pops about the four boys in red are anything to go by, Foote is certain that Jersey Boys will have a successful return season at its original Australian home – the Princess Theatre.
“Melbourne is bursting at the seams, jumping out of their skins to get us back. It’s a real thrill to be involved in something like that.”
After Melbourne, Perth will have a chance to enjoy the experience and then the show is likely to be ‘put to bed’.
For Foote, who has toured the world as performer and musical director with The Ten Tenors for over four years, and who will have clocked up some eighteen months touring with Jersey Boys, the end of the Jersey Boys Australian tour will bring some bittersweet emotions.
This performer, arranger and orchestrator does love Australia (and assures me he always will) will miss the show, but plans to move to London after the tour ends, where he hopes to create a stable home base.
“I can go home every night and have what passes for some semblance of a normal life, as much as this job allows”, he laughed.
Until then, he’s starring as Frankie Valli in Melbourne’s return season of Jersey Boys, and we suggest you check him out.
Visit jerseyboysaustralia.com.au for more information and ticketing details!