October 19, 2009

Christopher Kale Jones Returns to Jersey Boys!

October 19th, 2009

Photo #1: ChristopherKaleJones.com, Photos #2-3: by Joan Marcus, Photo #4: JBB.

By Howard Tucker, Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent

On October 17, Christopher Kale Jones returned to his signature role of Frankie Valli in the Las Vegas production of “Jersey Boys.” I had the pleasure of catching up with Chris just prior to his opening night. Among other topics, he reflects upon his return to “Jersey Boys”, his unique bond with his fans, his wonderful two-year marriage to fellow thespian Jenna Coker-Jones, and what’s next for the talented couple.

Howard Tucker: Chris, you’re no stranger to “Jersey Boys.” What does it feel like to be back after a year away? Is it sort of like riding a bike or did you need to get your voice back in shape? What was it like to be reunited with Deven after all this time?

Christopher Kale Jones: It feels great! This has been one of my favorite roles to play and I feel extremely privileged to be able to step into the Vegas production for a couple of weeks with this fabulous cast. As for actually being ABLE to do the show, I was fortunate to be in Vegas for five weeks in August/September as an emergency cover. During this time I had a week-long rehearsal period at the end of which I felt well-prepared by the dance captains and stage management here.

As you may or may not know, the incredibly dry climate here makes for tough singing conditions, but I feel well equipped to battle the heat and dryness. I am also in the fortunate position of only being contracted for nine shows, so if I happen to over-sing a couple of nights, it won’t have much of an effect on my voice as I will be done on November 1st and can rest then. When you are doing a show like this every week for six months to a year or more (like Travis and Rick), you need to be much more careful to protect your longevity in the role. As a “hired gun” for a couple weeks, I can take a more loose approach and sing my heart out most nights!

And now to Deven. It’s actually a huge benefit to me having Deven in the show. Since I am already familiar with a lot of his rhythms and character choices, I can relax and play a bit more when acting with him. He’s always been one of my favorite Tommy’s, and I feel fortunate having started the tour three years ago with him. His Tommy demonstrates so well the fierce power and potential destructiveness of the character without ever losing his immense charm. It is a tough task as an actor, but Deven makes it look easy. When you are on stage with actors like that, your job becomes easier and frankly, a lot more fun.

HT: How do you find that the Vegas experience differs from your touring cast experiences?

CKJ: That’s an interesting question. I think many people are suited to a transient lifestyle, such as you’d experience on the road. I think it helps if you are single, young, and excited about having a new “home” in each city. A company like the Vegas company offers a different appeal, and is tempting to those looking to make their home here and raise their families. Personally, I’m having a blast and am thankful Jenna will be able to join me for the second week before I head back to NYC. The idea of both of us doing a show of this caliber in one city is very appealing.

HT: It’s amazing how many enthusiastic fans you have, Chris. I’ve observed and experienced first-hand how you’ve taken time from your busy life to respond to and personally meet fans. Indeed, my sometime writing collaborator, Stubbleyou, cites you as the impetus that kept him and his family returning over and over again to “Jersey Boys”. How do you manage to always give so much of yourself?

CKJ: Well, Howard, I have to say that is quite a glowing description of my behavior. The truth is, since I am performing on stage for two hours in front of the fans, and my interaction with them is occasionally limited to brief moments backstage as well as email correspondence, I feel sometimes like the fans are able to recognize me more easily than I am able to recognize them. I always regret when this happens because everyone is special, and I hate when I can’t match a face to a name immediately…To the fans who have experienced this, I would just say, ‘Be patient with us. You may have seen us and gotten to know our characters over the course of two hours, but we have probably seen you for just a couple minutes, and emails usually don’t have pictures attached!’

As for those who would agree with your assessment, I would just say that I have always been aware that, as actors, we are in the service industry. If you crave food, you need a cook or a waiter or both. If you need your car fixed, you need a mechanic. If you need creative entertainment, you need an artist of some sort. As a service industry worker, I am aware that, although indirectly, audience members pay my salary for my service to them. When I cease to be entertaining, I will cease to be paid. I find it an effective tool (as well as simply being the right thing to do) to try to maintain good relationships with the fans. Some of these relationships are relatively close, and some are more superficial, but every fan deserves my respect.

HT: Would you bring us up-to-date on what has happened in the past year?

CKJ: Well, I wish it were a more glamorous story to tell, but with the deepening of what the government eventually described as a recession, entertainment work became very hard to come by. This makes sense, as the first thing people do in financial crisis is cut down on anything they see as “extra” expenses. For most, entertainment costs are the first to go. As a result tens of shows closed on and off-broadway, regional theaters closed, and even large, well-running shows (similar to “Jersey Boys”, “Wicked”, etc.) looked for ways to be more cost effective. As a result, I had a very light year. I performed on several cruise ships, at benefits, and did what I could to be creative.

The hidden benefit of this is that I was granted almost a complete year of time with my amazing wife Jenna. Pardon me for waxing spiritual but there is a bible verse that says, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” – Deuteronomy 24:5. I think it would do wonders for marriages around the country if this practice were actually adopted. So many challenges come with blending two lives into one, particularly in the first year or two. And distance is the catalyst that makes these challenges almost unbearable. This period of relative unemployment, while grating and hard at the time on both Jenna and me, ended up being a blessing that has drawn us closer together. We now feel like a team living in the trenches together, ready for whatever life throws at us.

HT: I know that you’ve done “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Stages St. Louis, to many great reviews and received several award nominations. What was it like to work with your wonderful wife Jenna Coker-Jones? Have you spoken with the producers about casting Jenna as Mary Delgado to your Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” (LOL)?

CKJ: Ha! Personally, I feel that Jenna would be an amazing Mary Delgado, and would possibly consider it in some company that they might want to place me as Frankie. The girls are truly the “unsung heroes” of Jersey Boys, playing many roles split among three ladies. However, Jenna has a pretty full schedule coming up, playing leading ladies in two shows: The Narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Arkansas Repertory Theater, and Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Ford’s Theater in DC.

She is an amazing performer and it is always a pleasure playing opposite her. Anything we can do to maximize our time together is a priority for us. Will it be “Jersey Boys” in the future? Or some other new Broadway show? I guess time will tell.

HT: I know that Stages St. Louis has played a wonderful role in your life. That’s where you met Jenna as you were both in the production of “Grease” several years back? How did you two fall in love?

CKJ: Stages St. Louis is a wonderful place to work, and Jenna and I have become fast friends with Jack, the producer, and Michael, the artistic director. Not only do they create enjoyable theater, they have a knack for combining people that quickly become your family. In our case, that statement soon became more than metaphorical.

When we met, we both felt a connection that was deep and abiding. Not only were we physically attracted to each other, and felt love in all the conventional ways (I love the way she laughs! I love the way he tells a story! etc.) but we began noticing deeper things that would make us a strong union.

We both had a love for God and a recognition that we are broken people living in this world. It’s interesting when people go through troubles to see what they do. Many turn inward in an effort to find the problems within themselves and change them. I think this is a noble pursuit and I know some people have experienced some success in doing so.

But, I think if you team up with someone who acknowledges that they are broken and will turn to God in times of trouble, you know that neither of you has the answer and you are both looking to the example of another (in our case Jesus Christ). This immediately gives the power in the relationship to God. We still fail in this all the time, but we knew that just that knowledge could get us through the hard times, and I’m happy to say it already has.

HT: As a so-called “theatre couple”, is there any competition between you?

CKJ: I would have to say very rarely. We are always excited for each other to get work. When you’re married, either person working puts money into the family, so when she succeeds, I succeed. It can be hard when one of us is working a lot and the other not at all, simply because you’re face-to-face with what you want to be doing every day. However, we are also very aware that this career swings back and forth so easily and often that eventually we will each (and both together!) have our seasons of success.

HT: You’ve also recently played Dennis in “All Shook Up” at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine . You said it was fun to play a “nerdy guy”. I offered reasonable consulting services, but you never took me up on it! All kidding aside, how was the experience?

CKJ: Howard, I’m afraid I had to be much more nerdy than you may think you are!!! It was a blast, and a great thing to do just before coming to play Frankie. “All Shook Up” is much more over-the-top humor while “Jersey Boys” is much more rooted in a gritty reality, but they both manage to be crowd-pleasers when the audience embraces the respective styles.

HT: “All Shook Up” is another so-called “jukebox musical”. What were the similarities to and the differences from “Jersey Boys”?

CKJ: Well, aside from what I’ve already mentioned, “All Shook Up” has a story that is/was crafted to fit the music. Consequently, the story, while entertaining, is quite a bit more cheesy and incongruous than the “Jersey Boys” story. In a stroke of brilliance which has already been commented on in print dozens of times, by placing the Four Seasons music in the context of concert and club venues, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice escaped the confines of having to tell a hokey story and were able to tell the actual story (if with a few liberties) of Frankie and the guys.

HT: I also know that you’re slated to play Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the historic Fords Theatre in Washington DC from March 12 to May 23, 2010. You’re the lead of Seymour Krelborn and Jenna is Audrey. Have you seen any other productions of “Horrors”, and how, if at all, will yours differ?

CKJ: I’ve only seen one, in college, which was a very bare-bones project in a small space. As such, the focus on the performances was at the forefront of the production. Our production will be in a larger space with higher production values, but I think the main difference will be that Jenna and I have some unique ties to our characters. I’ve always been a geek at heart, never thinking I was worthy of the pretty girl. And Jenna has always been a sassy sexy lady with a flair for style. (Plus she has a love for the nerd in me. Woo-Hoo!) I think we’ll be able to give some good performances!

HT: Do you think there’s a chance of “Horrors” making it to Broadway, sort of following the example set by “Jersey Boys” alum Bobby Spencer’s “Next to Normal ”, which came from DC to be nominated for multiple Tony’s?

CKJ: Ha! Well, anything is possible, but “Little Shop” was on Broadway recently enough that there would really have to be a huge audience desire for this show. “Next To Normal” was a vibrant new show, which usually has a better chance at a Broadway run, especially if you can iron out any kinks and streamline it. However, should the public demand it, Jenna and I won’t stand in the way!

HT: I do have a big favor to ask. I am planning to see you in “Little Shop” in DC. Once Audrey II spots me, those tentacles will know no bounds. Do you think you can keep us separated?

CKJ: Howard, I just don’t know! She’s a powerful plant that gets what she wants.

HT: You had mentioned in our prior discussion that playing Frankie has opened and will open many doors for you. On the flip side, you will always be identified with Frankie throughout your career, as Streisand has been identified with Fanny Brice, Merman with Mama Rose, Brynner with the King, and Channing with Dolly! Would you like to offer a comment on that?

CKJ: Sure! It’s interesting. The others you mentioned played their roles on Broadway (and in movies) and were instrumental in creating those roles. In this analogy, I think John Lloyd Young has more chance of having this sort of identity. As proof, I offer that I was often compared to him in many of the reviews on tour (almost as many times as I was rightly compared to Frankie).

As for the doors opening, that has also been interesting. The character is kind of an anti-leading man in that he is of small stature, sings like no other character in music theater, and is incredibly nuanced ranging in age from 14ish to his 60s. Consequently, when casting authorities look at shows they are casting, they are unsure whether they should see someone so closely identified with this show. Can a Frankie-type play Fiyero in “Wicked”? The son or father in “Next to Normal”? Pick your show and you’ll see the difficulties. However, simply the process of playing this complicated role has grown me as an actor and singer and I feel ready to take on a myriad of roles. And fortunately, I have become acquainted with many casting people who are willing to see that Frankie is only one facet of what I can play.

HT: What roles are you looking to play that you haven’t tackled so far?

CKJ: To be honest, my passion now is for new works. I really want to be inventing roles and putting my stamp on them. While I have a great love for the existing body of American Theater and Music Theater, I want to be part of the group of artists that are moving the arts into the future and crafting what will be and not what has been.

HT: I know you were considering a cabaret show with Jenna at some point. Is that still in the cards?

CKJ: Yes, actually. When Jenna goes to Little Rock to perform in “Joseph!”, I will join her though I am not in the show. I will be using this time to continue to write this cabaret so it is ready to go, as well as a solo show I have begun work on that JB fans will be happy to know includes quite a bit of music from the Seasons. My going to Little Rock has the added benefit for Jenna that I will be her “house-husband” for a couple months. She’s gonna love having me cook her meals and clean the house!


  1. Very impressive interview, Howard. You have certainly earned your stripes as Special Correspondent. CKJ is one of our absolute FAVORITES!

    Comment by Gary — October 19, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  2. Great interview Howard…as always, you outdid yourself! It is so nice to hear about Chris and what is new in his life.

    Comment by Carolyn — October 20, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  3. Is this like being in a f**king time machine or what?? Welcome back, Chris. Where do the producers find these gifted, talented people that are so nice on top of everything? It is just a joy to watch them perform and then chat with them afterward at the stage door. Great interview Howard. Chris, I wish I was able to get to Vegas to see you perform before you leave. All the best to you.

    Comment by Linda — October 20, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  4. Great interview Howard! Really enjoyed it. Would love to catch his solo show and the cabaret with Jenna. Best Wishes Chris!

    Comment by Angel — October 20, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  5. What a wonderful interview that was. Thank you Howard.

    I am so happy to hear Chris is coming back to JB. I saw him in Tampa in 08 and he was great. He brought his own special “zing” to the show. I would love to see him perform again. Glad to have you back, CHris.

    Comment by Lenora Antunes — October 20, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  6. Great interview. It’s so nice for Chris to be back in JB again and to catch up with him and Jenna. Thanks Howard.

    Comment by Linda/Tiggerbelle — October 20, 2009 @ 8:14 pm

  7. Howard,

    A great interview! I agree with Gary – you sure have earned highest accolades as a Jersey Boys Special Correspondent. Of course, Howard, you are special to so many people in so many ways. Correspondent is but one of many! Good job, my friend! IE

    Comment by irene eizen — October 21, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  8. Interviewer and interviewee – two class acts.

    Comment by David Cace — October 22, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  9. Thanks so much for all the wonderful comments above, and thanks to Susie for permitting me to do a second in-depth interview with this very fine man and talented actor. Chris truly lives each and every day by his comment above that “every fan deserves my respect”. I am so looking forward to seeing Chris and Jenna in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

    Comment by Howard Tucker — October 25, 2009 @ 10:23 pm

  10. Howard,

    You and Chris are both multi talented, and continue to deliver in so many ways. Great, in depth interview. Reading your words is the next best thing to talking to you in person! xo, Pam

    Comment by Pamela — October 25, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  11. Great interview Howard! I’ve seen CKJ as FV four times, can’t wait for number five…. Saw JB on Broadway too, great show, but CKJ reigns supreme. When a “60-something” year old gets this crazy for a show it has to be good… By the way, JB London September 2010, wow… All the best Chris.

    Comment by Greg — March 7, 2010 @ 3:07 am

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