“Who loves you pretty, baby?” Its “Jersey time” in Cape Town as the runaway worldwide smash hit musical ‘Jersey Boys’ makes its premiere at the Artscape Opera House on Wednesday June 19. Enjoyed by more than 120000 people during its recent sell-out Johannesburg season, ‘Jersey Boys’ arrives with sky-high expectations amongst locals who might have heard from their brethren up north what a powerful and captivating a piece of theatre it is. Capetonian audiences can now finally experience this Broadway phenomenon in all its glory.
PETER TROMP chatted to ANTON LUITINGH, the show’s Resident Director, as well as JACO VAN RENSBURG, who is the alternate Frankie Valli in ‘Jersey Boys’.
‘Jersey Boys’ has become a worldwide theatrical phenomenon in the last few years. What do you attribute its phenomenal global success to?
If you combine the angst, tension and high drama similar to an episode of the ‘Sopranos’ with some of the greatest songs of the 1960s and oodles of sex appeal, you have a dynamic, enthralling and highly entertaining musical called ‘Jersey Boys’ live on stage. It is certainly one of the most unique ‘jukebox musicals’ South African audiences will ever have seen.
It is slick, sexy and sophisticated. I have always believed that the success of any musical depends on the strength of its book, and here Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have documented the true story of the rise to fame of the original members of The Four Seasons – four blue collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks who became one of Americas greatest pop sensations – in a way that is unique, enthralling and highly entertaining.
How did people in Joburg take to the show?
Even though ‘Jersey Boys’ is set in the United States, it is very easy to see why it has become such a hit show internationally, and our run in Johannesburg has been no exception. We’ve had standing ovations every night. Our audiences have sung, danced and clapped along, laughed hysterically, been moved to tears and have been extremely generous in their praise of the show. Clearly ‘Jersey Boys’’ universal themes resonate with South African audiences as they have the world over.
What are the particular challenges in staging a production of this magnitude?
Musicals like ‘Jersey Boys’ are big budget productions. They are recognisable brands across the world, and for this reason we need to ensure that all aspects of the show fall in line with the expectations of the show’s original creators, no matter where in the world the production is being produced. Every aspect of the show from the casting of the talent, to the technical elements, even the way in which we market the show, is precisely what it would be were you watching ‘Jersey Boys’ in New York, London, Vegas or Australia. There are no compromises and the South African Company have ensured that audiences get the full ‘Jersey Boys’ experience. This is of course challenging in many ways, but certainly proves one thing over and over again, and that is that we South Africans have what it takes.
Which qualities were you guys looking for in the performers when you were casting the lead roles, and how long did the casting process last?
‘Jersey Boys’ relies on the triple threat skills of its performers. Traditionally musicals have placed a large emphasis on the singing and dancing abilities of its performers alone, but the artists in ‘Jersey Boys’ are forced to dig deeper, as the acting demands of the show are intense. Originally a creative team from Broadway came to SA to cast the show to ensure that we have the right performers playing the various roles. They then came back again to teach the local creative team and the company the show. It’s an expensive exercise, but it means we get our talent onto our stages, and it is totally worth it. The story of ‘Jersey Boys’ is separated into four “seasons”, with each “season” being narrated by a different member of the band. The creative team were looking for four leads who could best represent The Four Seasons in looks, vocal style and acting ability, and bring them to life on stage.
Jaco Van Rensburg
Where were you when you first heard you were cast in ‘Jersey Boys’, and how did you react?
I was on my way to a late night movie when my cell rang. Popcorn and coke in hand I saw it was our wonderful producer, Hazel Feldman’s number. I took the call. She told me that they would love me to be a part of the production and gave me the wonderful news that I will be sharing the role of Frankie Valli with Grant Almirall. I was very excited and relieved. I immediately called my friends and family and missed the first 20 minutes of the movie. By the way, I was so absorbed by the wonderful news that I have no recollection of what the movie was called or what it was about.
Tell us a little about your character. What has your process been like in realising him?
I can associate with Frankie Valli on many levels; he has always had to fight for what and where he wanted to get. Things never came easy for him. There is always an inner struggle of trying to understand and make sense of how the world works. It is, in my opinion, what makes Frankie Valli an interesting character that draws an audience right in. We can associate with his fears and dreams and we really care for the character because he is so flawed, so human, so much like all of us.
* Book at Computicket.