Imagine you’re in your final audition for a role you’ve always wanted to play. Standing fewer than 40 feet away judging your performance is the character you’re supposed to be playing.
That was the challenge facing Jason Kappus, who plays Bob Gaudio in the musical Jersey Boys. Kappus and company present the two-and-a-half hour musical Sept. 17-29 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State St).
Gaudio, who wrote most of the lyrics for the show based on the lives and times of the Four Seasons, played an active role in the casting of the show.
“That was a little bit nerve wracking having him look on while I was trying to be him,” Kappus says. “The best advice I got was right before my final audition. The associate director told me the role Bob cares the least about in the show is Bob Gaudio. It’s his wife Judy that you have to impress. Apparently that went well.”
Kappus provides a fourth of the point of view for the show that traces the ups and downs of the Four Season’s musical career. The Four Seasons topped the pop charts five times with “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and “Oh What A Night.” Compare that record to Frank Sinatra (three), Billy Joel (three), U2 (two), Pink Floyd (one), and Right Said Fred (one).
The Four Seasons were the first group to have their first three singles (“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”) land in the number one slot on the Billboard singles charters. From 1962 to early 1964, the height of the Four Seasons' popularity, only the Beach Boys were able to match the New Jersey group’s record sales in the United States.
While the show incorporates these songs, an intriguing storyline keeps Jersey Boys from becoming a “jukebox musical,” like Mamma Mia or Rock of Ages.
“Most jukebox musicals take the songs of an artist and shoehorn a story around the songs,” says Kappus who was in Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway before joining Jersey Boys. “Usually it comes out sounding forced or disjointed.
“The brilliant thing about Jersey Boys is it is a wonderfully well written play that happens to have music in it because these guys were in a rock band. If these guys were accountants, you would have a bunch of scenes where they’re doing taxes. Instead, they happened to be musicians. The music in the play happens naturally.”
Kappus says many of the Four Seasons’ hard core fans didn’t realize how difficult the climb to the top was or how difficult it was to stay at the top. Jersey Boys is kind of like a VH-1 Behind the Music peek at that journey.
“The music is a big draw of the show. That is what gets a lot of people in the door if they are fans of the Four Seasons growing up,” Kappus says. “What keeps this show going on for as long as it has is this incredible story.
“There are gambling debts, mob connections and jail time. The stranger than fiction story of what they had to go through to rise from the mean streets of New Jersey to becoming one of the most successful groups in American history is really fascinating. It’s not just them becoming successful but how they handled success … or didn’t.”
Gaudio, who hit the pop charts with the song “We Wear Short Shorts” when he was 15, comes off as one of the more level-headed members of the group. Other members of the band didn’t handle fame as well.
Tommy DeVito (portrayed by Nicolas Dromard) racked up over $160,000 of a gambling debt to the mob and ransacked $500,000 of the band’s money set aside to pay taxes. Gaudio, Frankie Valli (Nick Cosgrove) and Nick Massi (Brandon Andrus) decide to cut ties with DeVito and embark on a lengthy concert tour to pay off his debts. The marathon of gigs took its toll on Valli, who was divorced by his wife and estranged from his daughter, and Massi, who became an alcoholic and eventually left the band.
After Gaudio also tires of the relentless touring, Valli soldiers on as “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons” with four new band members. All fences among the original members are mended by the end of the show as the band reunites to perform at the 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“On a surface level, we hope people have a really good time. We want the people who grew up with this music to be transported back to their prom, their first date or being in the back seat of their Chevy,” Kappus says. “We’re standing out on the stage singing ‘I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ and, without a doubt, I’ll see some of those middle aged or older couples out there snuggling up.
“But on a slightly deeper level, this is a story about family. There’s this juxtaposition of, as we say in the show, your real family and your rock family, the family that you have and the family that you choose and the non-stop loyalty you have. People connect to that. They see how relatable the things in the show are to their own lives and how important family is.”
Jersey Boys will be performed Sept. 19-Sept. 29 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State St.) Times for the show are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. & 6 p.m. Sundays. Call the CAPA Ticket Center at 614-469-0939 or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000 to order tickets.
(Cutline for photo) Jason Kappus appears as Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel