BY CARY GINELL
One of the most anticipated shows that is coming to Thousand Oaks for the first time is the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys. The dramatic story of the rise of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons is probably the most successful pop musical on Broadway since the genre got its start in the 1990s, winning four Tony Awards including Best Musical in 2006. Jersey Boys relies on a classic music industry formula: a group of friends singing on street corners rise to the top of their profession, but not without interference from drugs, booze, girl trouble, and mob connections. The character who has to deal with much of that is Tommy DeVito, who founded what would become the Four Seasons in the early 1950s. Matthew Dailey plays the part of Tommy in the show and chatted with us about his character and his experience on Theater League’s current national tour, which begins at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza this coming Tuesday, February 23.
VCOS: How did you go about researching Tommy and the part he plays in the story of the Four Seasons?
MATTHEW: You know, it’s different than a lot of characters I’ve played because he was a real, and still living person. There really isn’t a lot of information out there on him, so I did a lot of research into the neighborhood and the time period. I went and walked around the neighborhood a little bit when I was in New York. Our associate director met Tommy on multiple occasions, so he heard a lot of stories and told us some stories that Tommy shared with him, and so I kind of went about it that way.
VCOS: Has Tommy been favorable about the portrayal of his character?
MATTHEW: I couldn’t tell you, honestly, I haven’t gotten a chance to meet him yet. I’m sure, though, that they’re all thrilled about the success of Jersey Boys and the repopularization it has brought to the group and their music. The music is amazing. And to bring it to a whole new generation, no one can be mad about that, regardless of how it’s done.
VCOS: Tommy is the source of a lot of the friction in the story. Would you call him the chief antagonist of the show?
MATTHEW: Yes, he is. More often than this, I’ve played a lot of true antagonists, whereas, with Tommy, I think the difference is that you still have to like him. You can’t hate Tommy. There has to be some sort of lovable quality about him that makes these guys put up with him for forty years. And I think the audience needs to be on Tommy’s side as well in that it’s more of a tragedy, with all the mob debts, getting kicked out of the group, and all that. He’s his own worst enemy.
VCOS: Do you play your own guitar in the show?
MATTHEW: I do play but there are some times where I’m being doubled. But I do play guitar.
VCOS: What did you grow up listening to?
MATTHEW: I grew up listening to all sort of things, everything from early rock ‘n’ roll to show tunes and everything in between.
VCOS: As someone from a different generation, who didn’t grow up with their music, how do you see the Four Seasons’ music from your perspective?
MATTHEW: I think they played a huge role. It represents the American Dream, these four guys off the street in Jersey, they come from nothing, and they rise up to get to the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s really amazing. And the legacy they left in rock ‘n’ roll history is huge. You see people coming to our show and there are three generations of people sitting next to each other, and they all know the songs. So I think that is pretty telling about the stamp that they’ve left in rock ‘n’ roll history.
VCOS: Do you find audiences different from city to city?
MATTHEW: Yes and no. I find the audiences different from night to night, almost. It just depends. Sometimes you get a rowdy Saturday night crowd and then a more conservative Tuesday night crowd, regardless of what city you are in but I think that the audience plays a whole character in the show themselves. We spend so much time interacting with them and talking to them. So depending how much or little they give back, it becomes kind of like a character in itself.
VCOS: What parts of your own personality and background do you think lends itself to playing Tommy?
MATTHEW: Oh, that’s a hard one. Well, I guess it’s that I get to play guitar on stage every night. It forced me to become a much better musician, a stronger musician. I listen better now. As far as me personally, even though, like you said, he’s kind of the antagonist, I think that there are qualities of myself that I can bring to this character. He’s very determined. He’s a go-getter and driven, and these are all qualities that I like to think I possess.
VCOS: Have you developed a brotherly relationship with your fellow Four Seasons?
MATTHEW: Absolutely. We’re very close on stage and off. Bob and Nick came before I did. They’ve been doing the show for almost two years together. I’ve been doing it with them about a year and three months. Aaron De Jesus, who is our Frankie, has been with us for about six or seven months now. As soon as he joined, he just fit right in and we’ve been good friends ever since.
VCOS: Where was the first place you played?
MATTHEW: I opened in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I joined the tour in Montreal and rehearsed with them before starting.
VCOS: There are always road stories, so what is the most unusual thing that has happened to you while you’ve been with the tour?
MATTHEW: We had an instance in Connecticut where our hotel caught on fire between shows. One of those things you don’t normally deal with (laughs). But every situation on the road is unique and different in its own way, that’s one of the reasons I love being on the road so much. It’s always changing and we’re always somewhere new.
VCOS: OK, now the impulse for this next question is to answer it by saying “Both,” but give it a shot.
MATTHEW: I’ll fight the urge.
VCOS: Which is the more important aspect of Jersey Boys: the music or the story?
MATTHEW: Wow. You’re right. The urge is to say both. But I think the story influenced the music. That’s what Bob Gaudio and the group were going through, living those lives, when they were writing this music, and I don’t know that the music would have come out the way it did had they not been dealing with all the things they were dealing with in the first place. So I guess what I’m saying is that the story – if I was forced to choose one – is the most important.
VCOS: I tend to agree with you. As important as the Four Seasons’ music was, the story represents a universal reality of the rise in the music business in any era.
MATTHEW: And the fact that it’s true. I always say, when we’re going around talking to people, that it’s crazy, because it has everything needs to make a blockbuster. It has mob ties, it has these crazy love affairs, rags-to-riches, everything that happens in a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s just that it actually happened to these guys.
Jersey Boys opens at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Tuesday, February 23 and plays through February 28. For dates and show times, see the VC On Stage Calendar.