On February 24, American Theatre Guild’s production of Jersey Boys makes a single appearance in Thousand Oaks at the Fred Kavli Theater. COVID forced the canceling of the show twice, first in April 2020 and then again in January 2021. The production stars Jon Hacker as Frankie Valli, leader of the four-man doo-wop group the Four Seasons that revolutionized pop music in the 1960s. Jersey Boys helped kick off a new trend in Broadway shows: the pop musical, where a biography of a popular vocal group or personality features a score of that artist’s most influential and successful songs. Many imitators followed, but Jersey Boys set a high standard of excellence that has yet to be matched.
We recently interviewed Matt Faucher, who portrays group member Nick Massi. In April 2018, Matt made his Broadway debut in the role of Nick in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. He also understudied the principal roles of Gerry Goffin and Don Kirshner as well as both Righteous Brothers. After appearing on Broadway, Matt continued with the show’s national tour and is now following that up by playing another character named Nick – Four Seasons member Nick Massi. We talked to Matt while Jersey Boys was playing in Seattle, Washington.
VCOS: Had you been familiar with the Four Seasons’ story and music before you were cast to play Nick Massi?
MATT: I’ve been singing with tight harmony groups focusing on ’60s and ’70s doo-wop and all that kind of stuff for about ten years now. And I’ve been singing with some really close buddies of mine so I was really familiar with the music and I’ve always loved it. One of the first songs I remember hearing, going back to when I was five years old, was “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” I was in the bank teller line with my mom.
VCOS: That WAS memorable, wasn’t it?
VCOS: So in your opinion, if you are going to be doing other pop-oriented musicals, is it better to be familiar with the music before you become familiar with the show?
MATT: I think, stylistically, it’s helpful. Especially when you’re auditioning for the show so the people who are casting it know that you’re already comfortable with the style. Usually you have ample time to learn the music. I had an advantage because I’m really familiar with the style of music, but the arrangements that I sang were not the Jersey Boys arrangements. So I had to relearn music that I had been singing for ten years. And that was actually rather difficult.
VCOS: How did the Four Seasons differ from other doo-wop groups?
MATT: Structurally, it’s very similar. The arrangements that have been made for this musical are different and more challenging. When you’re singing bass in a quartet, you’re usually singing the one or the five of a chord, which is either the root or the fifth, when you’re building a chord. When they arranged these songs for the stage, they made them a little bit more exciting and a little bit more intricate. When Nick Massi or Bob Gaudio wrote these charts, they made them for guys that had good ears, not necessarily for trained musicians. They just had a natural aptitude for it.
VCOS: Even with new arrangements, you still have to be faithful to that Four Seasons sound. Does that create some different kinds of restrictions when the new arrangements are being made?
MATT: Well, as long as the Frankie line is featured, you can kind of back up around him however you’d want. What you need to be faithful to is what people heard on the radio. As long as you get close to that, and you can make those memories fire for people, like I did in that teller line with my mom, as long as you hit those marks, people will go, “Oh, I’m listening to a Four Seasons song.”
VCOS: Do you woodshed with the other members of the quartet outside of rehearsing for the show itself?
MATT: Oh, we clicked right away. Two of the guys, Jon Hacker [Frankie Valli] and Eric Chambliss [Bob Gaudio] had worked on this tour together before, so they were already buddies. And Devon Goffman and I were the two new Four Seasons to this cast. But we immediately hit it off and we’d hang out and pow wow and buddy around a lot off stage because we got along so well. That stage chemistry is not put on at all. We are definitely pals.
VCOS: It’s hard to hide true camaraderie.
MATT: Yeah, and you pretty much work just with them, but you also work with the ensemble as well, but almost all of your interactions are in some way tied with the four guys, so having that chemistry is really important.
VCOS: What makes the music of the Four Seasons timeless? Is it the songs themselves, the harmonies, Frankie Valli’s falsetto lead, the lyrics, or a combination of the above?
MATT: It’s gotta be a combination of the above, but also it’s the universal themes of heartbreak and the guy wanting the girl back and, in “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” being a man under a tough circumstance. I think that Bob Gaudio had a real knack for writing really catchy tunes. Structurally, especially the early stuff is all in the same sort of doo-wop style. That wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but having Frankie’s voice doubled on a lot of recordings made a new sound. The falsetto sound wasn’t necessarily new, but somebody with the amount of power had within that falsetto; his chest voice combining with his head voice, that was particularly strong. So they were able to capture this superstar voice and then have really strong musicians behind them. So I think that’s sort of what set them apart from the rest. And the songwriting is really key and Bob Crewe was the person that says, “We’re gonna double Frankie’s voice. We’re not just going to write a record, we’re going to make an experience.” The experience came when they would double Frankie’s voice on the recordings and it made that vocal line pop in a way that people hadn’t heard before.
VCOS: Double tracking was coming in about that time; the Beatles were using it early on in their work at EMI/Abbey Road. Were you able to meet any of the surviving members of the group?
MATT: I have not. I believe Gaudio has visited the tour and the Broadway company. I’m pretty sure Eric Chambliss met Gaudio, which I’m sure had to be a surreal experience, when you get to meet the person you’re playing. The closest I’ve had to that was when I met Carole King and I was playing her husband that night and got to speak with her at length about the show and about her life. It’s an honor to get to play such musical legends and unfortunately, we lost Tommy DeVito this past year and Nick Massi, who I play, passed away in 2000. I think Jon Hacker has met Frankie Valli. But I’m so new to it, I haven’t met any of the original guys who are left.
VCOS: If you were able to ask the real Nick Massi one question about playing him, what would you ask him?
MATT: What a fantastic question. I would ask him, “How did you feel when you quit the group?” Nick is the least fleshed-out character in the show because they knew the least about him and he passed away before they finished writing it. It would be like if you collected your best friends and then they wrote a story about you but you had no input into it. So it’s just their impressions of him and it leaves room for interpretation and I get to bring a bit of myself in my own empathy to his experiences. So it’s kind of like a lens on top of a lens. You have the people that knew Nick Massi and then you have someone who’s doing an interpretation of that image of him. That’s what’s kind of left up in the air. So he has all this hindsight about quitting but in that moment, I play it as really betrayal. He feels that he’s put his heart and soul into this group and he’s just being cut out of something that he put his blood, sweat, and tears into. It’s the one thing that’s keeping his mental clarity and sanity on the tracks. Because he’s having trouble with drinking, womanizing; he was pretty much of a sex addict, but that’s, of course, just an interpretation, but it makes for a more dramatic experience. So that’s what I would ask him. “What were you thinking when Tommy got into all that trouble and you quit the band when they were at the height of their power and popularity? What was going through your head?”
VCOS: That must have been quite a struggle and you have to deal with that yourself in playing him.
MATT: We’ve all experienced that on some level. You feel that your trust has been betrayed or someone you really care about isn’t treating you the way you deserve to be treated. It’s all completely relatable, so even if it’s something that I’m interpreting on top of the material, I think it’s highly relatable.
VCOS: The device of having a different Four Season narrating each distinctive section of the play is unique to Jersey Boys. Can you talk a little bit about that and compare their relative objectivity?
MATT: I believe that they are purposely NOT objective. There are lines that speak to that. Tommy says, “Everyone remembers it however they want to…” And that’s how we are with each of our stories. When we think about our own lives, we end of gearing them towards the way we want them to be and not necessarily how they really went. Tommy DeVito, from my understanding, seems to be wanting to save face. He wants to be liked and he wants to be loved by the audience. He’s the first narrator and he’s very charming but he has a lot of rough edges that need to be sanded down. And he’s not always portrayed in the best light. So Devon’s job in playing Tommy is not only to kick off the story and keep things moving but also to try to charm the audience into thinking he might not be quite the troubled guy as he is being portrayed as. Bob Gaudio is that fresh new element to the group. He brings a lot of technical know-how and inside information of the music entertainment business to the show. If you’re already in it, you’d listen to what Bob is saying and think, “OK, this all makes sense. I get how the recording business works.” But if you’re just the general public, you have no idea how record producing works or anything like that. So his job is almost an educational role. I’m the third Season, so I’m “Fall.” My job as Nick Massi is to say, “OK, you’ve been hearing a lot of stories from two different perspectives: Tommy’s and Frankie’s, but I’m tell you right now, these are all skewed. These are their stories and I’m going to tell you what no one is willing to tell you. You’re getting the inside scoop from me.” I actually say, “That’s the problem with Gaudio. He’s looking so far into the future, he could never see what was happening right under his nose.” My character does a lot of listening in the first act. My first line int he second act is “I’ve been pretty quiet until now.” I’m an observer, which is really what I am in real life. When I was kid, I’d want to be around the adults. I would be quiet and I would just listen to them talk. And I would absorb what they were talking about and would try to contribute as a little kid. I think that affected how I matured as an adult. So Nick is the observer of the group even though I’m inside of it. I’m trying to tell the truth as close as I can but through the lens of Nick’s life.
VCOS: You know, that’s a terrific answer to my question. It’s clear you’ve really put a lot of thought into this.
MATT: (laughs) Well, I mean, you have to if you want to play these guys honestly. You have to ask these questions of yourself before you get out there on stage.
VCOS: The fact that there’s not a lot known about Nick Massi gives you a lot of leverage in how to make him the objective viewer.
MATT: As much as I can. He even looks back at his life and says, “Maybe some of the decisions I made were based on my ego.” There’s a moment at the end of the show where everyone gets to reflect on their journey. That’s what that Tommy line is so important because everyone remembers their life as they’d like to remember it.
VCOS: Tell me about performing in a national tour and whether it’s more difficult than playing on one stage for a longer run.
MATT: It is difficult although it’s great getting to see this great country. We get a chance to no regular person really gets. The hard part is you don’t get to go home every night. We’re in Seattle right now and my wife surprised me on Valentine’s Day by showing up at the hotel. I hadn’t seen her in months. Not getting to see your significant other for months is very difficult. You’re sort of in a microcosm of life when you’re on the road. You live, sort of, with the people you work with and that can lead to tensions. This group is actually really lovely and kind and I haven’t found any sort of “road drama.” I wouldn’t say we were an “old” cast but we are definitely a more mature group. Sometimes when you get kids straight out of college they feel a little less socially responsible than folks who have been around for a little while. The moving around is tough. I don’t mind living out of a suitcase. It helps one become a little bit more of a minimalist. Loading into a theater and setting up the show for that night is a really huge struggle for the technical folk. Our tech department has a really difficult job that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. It involves taking our show, which fits in a lot of theaters, but not in every theater. And to basically have to tailor it to that space every time you go in there – sound checking, focusing lights, making sure that as much of the set that we have can fit – is really hard. We actors have to be able to sustain energy throughout a tour and keep the show alive and vibrant for the audience every night. But the real, true backbreaking work is done by the crew.
VCOS: And you don’t have a chance to settle in here because you’re only in town for one night.
MATT: We were here for a week in Seattle and it felt like we’ve been here for a month! Your concept of time gets warped when you move around a lot (laughs).
VCOS: Well, this has been great. I really appreciate the insights you’ve offered on this very important and very entertaining show.
MATT: Nice talking to you!
Jersey Boys plays for one night only at the Fred Kavli Theatre: Thursday, February 24 at 7:30pm. For tickets, visit www.tickets-center.com.