The smash hit musical Jersey Boys is currently wowing crowds across the UK, and next week the cast arrive in Birmingham for a run at the New Alexandra Theatre. Ahead of opening night Emma Iannarilli chatted to leading man Tim Driesen about the theatre, Christmas and aging man bands…
Hi Tim. You’re playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, were you a fab of his before the show?
TD: It’s funny that when you mention that the show Jersey Boys is all about the Four Seasons people, say that the name seems familiar, but certainly lots of people of my generation and younger (I’m 36.) are not always that aware of who they were. But then you start singing all those songs and you realise they sang ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Bye Bye Baby’, and that these songs sound as joyful and tuneful as they did when they were written in the 1950s/60s and still sound so amazing today. I guess what I’m saying is that I was a fan without being aware I was a fan. I was a fan of the music without even knowing the group behind it. We all know groups like the Beatles, we know their names, their back stories, but it was different with The Four Seasons. They were all convicted felons, the back story had to be hidden from the 15 year old girls who were fans. These guys were hardcore,
How difficult is it to create a living icon on stage?
Well, it isn’t a tribute show so I’m not trying to give an interpretation of Frankie Valli. This musical is their story; everything that appears in it is true, it happened. So in one way it is difficult because you can’t just do an impersonation, the performance needs to bring the essence of the story of Frankie and The Four Seasons, and also New Jersey, to life. But In another way the fat that it is not an impersonation makes it easier as you don’t have to do all the mannerisms etc – we’re not talking a carbon copy.
I met Frankie Valli and was lucky enough to spend a morning with him. He is such a down-to-Earth guy, a real grafter. He has been in business since he was 15, and he’s now 80 and still doing 50-60 gigs a year. Music is in his blood, but it wasn’t handed to him on a plate.
Do you have a favourite Four Seasons song to perform?
It has to be Can’t take my eyes of you. It’s iconic, but it was almost never released. It was too rough to be romantic, too soft to be rocky and the record company didn’t know how to sell it, and get airplay for it. This is a key part of Jersey Boys – the song is being talked about but not mentioned by name, and you can see the audience wondering which song it is, and the shock when they hear it. It is a definite high point of the show.
You originally performed the show in Holland, what made you join the UK tour?
Well, I’ve been working her since I was 18 and have spent a good part of the last 15 years here…and I’m thankful that this is a hard part to cast – the high falsetto voice and all that. I love this show, it is a real international experience now with the cast often rotating – getting chance to play in London, Broadway and in touring productions – the cast is a real family.
What do you think the appeal of Jersey Boys is?
An American Journalist put it best – You come for the music and stay for the story. In these days of X Factor an instant fame the story is compelling – it took 10 years to get their first hit, no overnight success story. But they then got hit after hit in decade after decade – they were special.
I also think people love the personal aspect – it’s the story of a band we don’t know much about. And it’s a universal story too, today there are bands practicing in garages and playing in bars, people always get together to play music.
The songs are so great I think to hear them played live is magical. All together it is such a sleek production. If you like theatre, you’ll love this show. If you don’t like theatre you’ll still love this show.
Frankie Valli is not your first foray in portraying a pop star – you also did the Take That musical too – how did that compare to Jersey Boys?
Yes I did the Take That Musical ‘Never Forget’ and also We Will Rock You – the Queen musical, I guess that is my thing, playing In ageing man bands. Ageing boys bands are my niche, the closest I’ll ever get to being in a boy band, but lots of fun.
You did a live performance with your fellow Jersey Boys at The Jamhouse – how did that compare with a theatre performance?
Doing parts of a show out of context is a bit like showing a trailer for a movie, it’s a snippet. That said, the reaction is pretty much the same as in the theatre – you feel like a pop star. Everyone just loves the songs, they always get a great reaction.
Where does your love of musical theatre come from?
I’m the only person in my family who performs. I’ve always loved to sing, it’s always been in my blood, but I am grateful to my family for indulging me. My mum says that it is hard to get a job in any sector at the moment, so you should do something you love!
Christmas is just around the corner, how will you be spending it?
I won’t be able to make it home for Christmas, but I’m used to this now as I’ve been in England in shows for so long, and you often only get a day off. So I will spend some time with friends, eating far too much food and then lying on the sofa in a food coma.
What are your favourite things about Christmas?
I like to eat a lot, drink a bit – I keep this for special occasions. I love Mulled Wine, hot chocolate, the Michael Buble Christmas album. Some people moan about Christmas but I love it, such a great time of year when people seem a little happier. I think that Is the best thing about Christmas, the way everyone feels.
You’re in Birmingham very soon for the start of Jersey Boys, do you have anywhere you plan to visit?
I’ve only ever been to Birmingham once, and that was for a day, so I’m really looking forward to taking a look around. I want to visit the Christmas market. I have friends in Birmingham so I’ve had them scouting around for good places to eat and visit. Plus I’m at the New Alex which is a beautiful theatre, so I’m very much looking forward to spending Christmas in Birmingham this year.
Are there any other characters/musicals you would love to perform in?
That’s a good one! A difficult one too. Think my favourite part id yet to be written. That said I’m really happy to be playing Frankie Valli, one of the biggest parts in theatre at the present time.
One of my fave musicals is Sunset Boulevard, I’d love to play the part of Joe Gillis, the man who ends up in the swimming pool. This is a classic musical, rather than what is sometimes called a jukebox musical, and Joe is a great lead role for an actor. Or I guess if there’s another musical about an ageing man band which needs a singer with a slightly high falsetto – I’m the man.
What are your plans for 2015?
I want to be happy and healthy throughout the year. I’m travelling through the UK for a large part of the year touring with Jersey Boys and I think you forget what a great place it is – so much heritage and culture. I intend to take a good look around. So my 2015 plan is to be happy, healthy and to enjoy travelling around.
Jersey Boys opens at The New Alexandra Theatre on December 9th.
Emma Iannarilli writes the blog http://fashion-mommy.com