Winner of the 2006 Best Musical, the smash hit tells the tale of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. It’s the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time.
Vital VOICE recently caught up with out-actor Jonathan Hadley who plays lyricist and producer, Bob Crewe. Hadley chatted it up about “Jersey Boys” and playing a real-life character that the LGBT community should be proud of.
Colin Murphy: I was excited to learn about your character, Bob Crewe—tell our readers a bit about him.
Jonathan Hadley: Bob Crewe—I kind of like to call him the Fifth Season (out of The Four Seasons). He was the lyricist for most of their big hit songs in the early to mid 1960s and at the same time was their manager and their producer. And he really was pretty much instrumental for that signature Four Seasons sound. He was the guy in the booth creating that sound and was very creative—I think—in forging that whole new sound that sent them into the stratosphere. He went on to write “Lady Marmalade,” which was a big hit, and now he’s living in LA and doing a lot of visual art.
I was talking to him the other day… He had said he’d always wanted to be in front of the camera or on stage. He started off as a model back in the 1950s in LA—but somehow he always ended up behind the scenes either writing or producing. So he said with “Jersey Boys” this is his chance to be on stage and he’s grateful for those of us who play Bob Crewe for giving him the chance to be on stage. I thought that was really sweet.
CM: How does it feel to be able to portray a gay man who has had such an impact on pop-culture? His work really was the soundtrack of America.
JH: I feel very honored and excited about it. You know—calling him a gay man, of course, in the early 1960s—nobody was really out-out. So Bob Crewe was just seen as sort of flamboyant and interesting and at the same time respected for his talent and for his work as a producer and lyricist. He wasn’t judged as a gay man—which I think is a great thing. He was more noted for what he did rather than anything else. But I think it’s great that a man who was so influential in pop music—that nobody knew he was a gay man—it’s sort of a subversive story. I love putting it out there and portraying it and telling the story.
CM: How did you approach playing the role—did you try to get a sense of the real person?
JH: Absolutely—and of course what’s so great in research is the Internet and I was able find recordings of him because I haven’t actually met him. But there’s all these recordings I found and photographs so I can try to build off of that. There’s always a responsibility when you’re playing a real person to not turn them into a caricature in any way. You want to be faithful to them and make them a real entity on the stage as well as in real life because they could walk into the theatre at any time and that’s happened. The last time we played Tampa—Frankie Valli was playing Clear Water—and we go out on stage and there he is in the front row.
CM: I’ve read there’s an interesting story about the penning of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”—can you retell that?
JH: That’s a great story because it’s arguably one of the great pop songs of all time and it was actually inspired by one of his [Crewe’s] lovers at the time. He was having trouble coming up with a lyric and the story is he saw his lover lying on the bed or something and the words just came: “you’re just too good to be true—can’t take my eyes off of you.” I just think that’s great—gay people should know that.
CM: “Jersey Boys” has such a broad appeal—you’ve called it “a guys musical”—so when you’re portraying the character was it important to you to make it clear that this was a gay man you were portraying on stage?
JH: Absolutely—but not that it’s the first thing that he was about. He was accepted and respected in the business for his talent, so I felt one of the interesting things about Bob Crewe’s story is he was accepted by these four basically, street thugs. The Four Seasons were these street kids from Newark—they were some rough kids.
Tickets are available for Jersey Boys (part of the U.S. Bank Broadway Series and sponsored by American Airlines) online at metrotix.com, at The Fox Theatre box office, MetroTix outlets, and MetroTix charge-by-phone at 314-534-1111
BY: COLIN MURPHY – SENIOR WRITER