For the person lucky enough to play the signature role of Frankie Valli in the smash Broadway hit “Jersey Boys,” the lifestyle can be pretty lonely.
Take Aaron De Jesus for example, the actor playing the role in San Francisco’s production, which has its official opening on Friday, Jan. 22nd. While De Jesus would not spend a second complaining about his good fortune landing such an iconic role, life on the road has its challenges. While others may be enjoying the amenities of a wonderful American city, DeJesus often finds himself relaxing after a show with a humidifier and plenty of tea and lemon.
“The weight of the show definitely has its challenges, it’s the most demanding role I’ve ever done, and probably one of the top three most demanding roles in musical theatre history,” said De Jesus. “We are constantly changing climates and all circumstances surrounding health, and your health has to come first. Everything else comes after that.”
San Francisco and the Bay Area has fallen in love with “Jersey Boys,” a show that has repeatedly made its way back to the Bay, babe. In San Francisco alone, it has played in extended runs multiple times since its San Francisco debut at the Curran Theatre in 2006, the same year it premiered on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including the coveted best musical prize. The show’s cast album also netted a Grammy award for best cast album. And while a sub par film version did not capture the live energy of the stage production, the momentum of these catchy hooks and compelling story of the streetlamp crooning lads is showing no signs of slowing down in cities throughout the country, as well as in New York. It is currently the 12th longest running show and the second longest running jukebox musical in Broadway history.
What allows for the show to keep barreling downhill is the quality of the music and a storyline that spells out the rise, fall and rise of Valli and the Four Seasons. The story lines that encompass the stage are seen in many rock music documentaries – simple guys hit it big, the girls follow, jealousy finds its way into the group, and the livelihood is threatened when the alpha dog gets in too deep with some seedy characters.
In the case of the show, the alpha dog is Tommy DeVito, girls turn into wives and other girls, the jealousy comes from others in the group towards Valli’s simple handshake partnership with brilliant songwriter and collaborator Bob Gaudio, and fat payments are owed to some underground loan sharks.
De Jesus cut his teeth with the show in Las Vegas, where he understudied the role, quietly prepping for the big moment where he was able to headline the show on his own. His character study also came from his father, a blue collar man who was raised in the South Bronx. That first-hand peek at authenticity certainly helped shape the truths he brings to his portrayal of Valli.
“When I was assigned to this role, the producers wanted this to be a real story with real people, and it has to be authentic and genuine,” said De Jesus. “My father grew up in a rough ‘hood like these guys, and I’ve been able to draw from that and kind of create my own idea of who Frankie is to me.”
“Jersey Boys” is a show that keeps its strength because it has the ability to transcend all ages and cultures. It is something that De Jesus, who is of Puerto Rican descent, discovered when he performed a show and ran into an audience member by the stage door after the performance.
“I was in Atlanta, and a gentleman came up to me and figured I spoke Spanish,” said De Jesus. “He was from Venezuela and had tears in his eyes, and told me in Spanish what a moving and emotional experience he had watching the show.
“It made me realize that, oh my gosh, here is a man who does not speak English, and has experienced all barriers that this show would have for him. It made me realize that this show transcends all age ranges and barriers. The music is so iconic, the show is fantastically scripted and the direction is flawless.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF Presents “Jersey Boys”
Music by Bob Gaudio
Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Featuring the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Jan. 22nd – Feb. 14th
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Tickets range from $45 – $212
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com