North Queensland Opera and Music Theatre (NQOMT) will make a welcome return to the stage with their first post-lockdown production, Jersey Boys, opening on 17 March.
The based-on-a-true-story musical follows Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who fall in with the wrong crowd but ultimately rise to become one of the most successful pop groups of all time. The show features all the band’s you’ll-know-it-when-you hear-it hits including Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like a Man, Bye Bye Baby, Sherry and Big Girl’s Don’t Cry.
Stepping into the shoes of Frankie Valli, and into his first leading role, is Johnathon Coco who – along with co-stars Mark Whittaker, Sam Stewart and Luke Reynolds – has dived headfirst into research in order to emulate the iconic sound and well-known personality.
“I’ve been looking at a lot of things from Frankie Valli himself back in the ‘50s – different interviews and clips,” said Johnathon.
“I feel there is more pressure when someone is real because I think the audience is expecting you to live up to a certain standard – not to a full extent, but definitely much more. They go in to the theatre with a preconceived idea of Frankie Valli and how his vocals should be.”
Mark agrees that research has been critical to bedding down the Four Seasons, but he’s enjoyed the tightened scope of creative license that comes with referencing a real-world character.
“It’s a different approach: it’s not the everyday musical that people are used to seeing; it’s a biopic essentially, which is really cool,” Mark said.
“You can actually look at the people themselves for example, with my character Tommy DeVito – I’ve looked at his life, and movies and other versions of the show and taken some inspiration to flesh out from there.
“Of course, it’s also about going and listening to those records and just trying to get that sound down, because obviously the music is a very, very important part of the show.”
While audiences are likely to be familiar with many of the songs in Jersey Boys, as well as elements of the story, Sam said he was interested to see how viewers might react to some of the show’s theatrical conventions that aren’t quite typical to jukebox musicals.
“It’s breaking the fourth wall, it’s very conversational, very intimate towards the audience and I think that is something that will appeal to a broader crowd,” said Sam. “It’s almost like a concert because you’re telling a story, then you’re doing some acting and breaking down a scene.
“I’ve seen some interviews with the real Jersey Boys and they say that the story in the show is about 93 per cent accurate … it’s portrayed in a way that I think a lot of people are going to respond to.”
Johnathon, Mark and Sam warn that the show moves along at break-neck speed with each of them making scene and costume changes right before the audience’s eyes just to keep up the pace. At almost 18 months since NQOMT’s last outing (CATS), it’s like being thrown straight back in the deep end. However, it seems seasoned performers, first-timers and audiences alike are happy to swim.
“New people who haven’t been involved before are taking an interest,” Sam said. “There’s a few new faces in the show, which has been really, really good to see, because it expands this great community. But it’s been good to be back and doing something we all enjoy again: being able to come and flesh out characters, feel the camaraderie and the friendships we all have, and just to be back in the vibe again.”
NQOMT’s Jersey Boys runs 17 – 27 March 2021 at the Townsville Civic Theatre.