December 19, 2007

For Jersey Girl Jennifer Naimo, Life Is a Cabaret

December 19th, 2007

Jennifer Naimo

By Charlene C. Giannetti,

Like all of the women who once surrounded Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the female actors in the Tony award-winning Jersey Boys play supporting roles. On November 11, Jennifer Naimo, who portrays Valli’s wife, finally had the opportunity to claim center stage in her debut cabaret show at the Laurie Beechman Theater.

We can use up all the Four Seasons clichés here—“Too Good to Be True,” and “Oh, What a Night” for starters. Those phrases would still understate her performance. More fitting might be, “A Star is Born.”

Cabaret singers are a special breed. Those who consistently fill up places like the Algonquin’s Oak Room, Feinstein’s, and the Café Carlyle, bring together many talents to make a show work. They select the right music (Tierney Sutton), surround themselves with the best musicians (Rosemary Clooney, in her heyday), carry on banter between songs (Mary Cleere Haran), have a fabulous voice (Nancy LaMott) and, of course, know how to make a tune their own (Ann Hampton Callaway and her sister, Liz). Naimo manages to pull it all off with style. If she desires a musical life after Jersey Boys, the cabaret scene will welcome her with open arms.

She came bounding onto the stage singing “Leader of the Pack,” wearing a leather jacket over a glittery black dress. Although cabaret singers don’t usually move around the stage much, this upbeat opening number hinted at Naimo’s considerable dance skills that are on display each night in Jersey Boys.

Naimo’s musical selections, which included standards, pop, jazz and blues, underscored her range as a singer, belting out a song when appropriate and keeping the mood soft and sensuous to fit the lyrics of others. Her choices included Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” Christina Aguilera’s “Trust the Voice Within,” and Nina Simone’s “Do I Move You?” She was accompanied by the five-piece Jersey Boys band, with direction by Andy Gale, and musical direction by Chris Haberl.

Naimo titled her show, “Many the Miles,” and she brought the audience along on her journey from growing up in Michigan, where she secretly fawned over the Partridge Family’s David Cassidy, to California, where she waited on tables while hoping for her big break, to finally making it to Broadway, originating the role of Mary Delgado, Valli’s first wife.

In an interview prior to the show, Naimo said she came to Manhattan when she was eighteen, entering the conservatory program at New York University. She also worked at the Williamstown Theater Festival.

“My first Equity tour was Big River for Des McAnuff,” she said. “While short-lived, it was fun.” That show also put her on McAnuff’s radar and when he set out to cast the La Jolla cast of Jersey Boys, Naimo nabbed the role of Mary Delgado.

Naimo doesn’t sugarcoat the disappointment and rejection faced by all struggling actors. During her show she recounted the many auditions she went on that never resulted in a job. (She tried out for the part of Grace in the hit sitcom “Will and Grace”). She did get parts in episodes of “Scrubs” and “Strong Medicine,” but was passed over for “King of Queens.” Besides Big River, Naimo was in the first national tour of Les Miserables, playing the role of Eponine. She also played Frenchie in Grease and Georgie Bukatinsky, in the national tour of The Full Monty.

She met her husband, Tim Morales, after joining a Catholic internet dating service. (A church-going Catholic, Naimo explains her frequent use of the “f” word in Jersey Boys by saying it’s the character, not her, saying it). She and Morales were married during her two-month hiatus for The Full Monty.

Morales has remained in Los Angeles during Naimo’s Broadway run in Jersey Boys. During her cabaret show, she thanked him publicly and dedicated to him two ballads, “Just in Time” and “The Luckiest.”

Members of the original Jersey Boys cast will be leaving soon, John Lloyd Young who plays Valli, on November 22, and Daniel Reichard, who plays Bob Gaudio, on January 6. Both were in the audience for Naimo’s show.

“It’s scary to know when to leave,” Naimo said during the interview. “It’s hard to leave something that is, after two years, still sold out with standing room every night.”

With her cabaret show, however, Naimo has shown she still has many miles to go and a very promising career road ahead.


  1. Oh, That was great! Jen’s show that night was AMAZING!! She is such a warm and wonderful lady..Jen and I feel so lucky to have met Jennifer Naimo. I hope we can continue to keep in touch with her. Seeing Jen on Sunday at the Brunch just lit the room up. She brings that beautiful smile, and makes us all so happy that we know her..Fans for life, we love you Jen…Jody and Jen ( My Jen :-)

    Comment by Jody Cardillo — December 19, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  2. What a terrific article. It says what we already know…Jennifer is a super talented performer and a truly caring individual who has worked hard to get where she is at. Way to go, Jen!!

    Comment by Melissa — December 19, 2007 @ 10:38 am

  3. Thanks for a marvelous review, Charlene. I just want to add a few little things….not only were John Lloyd and Daniel there, but Jen was supported by so many of the Jersey Boys cast, including Dominic Nolfi, Travis Cloer, Erica Piccinnini, Michael Longoria, Peter Gregus, creator Rick Elice and alumnus Tituss Burgess. They were indeed real cheerleaders for their esteemed colleague.

    It almost seemed as if Jen’s set was tailored to those of us growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. Charlene, you noted “Leader of the Pack” and “Angie Baby”, but there were also wonderful covers of David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” (seems Jen still has a crush on David, given her great choreography), Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmelade” (written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan), and brief tributes to Karen Carpenter (“Top of the World”) and Anne Murray (“You Needed Me.”) For the more mature among us, she really roused the audience with Rosie Clooney’s “Come-on-a-My-House” as she distributed candy to the crowd. (I’d put Jen’s version against Bette Midler’s remake, it was THAT good.)

    And you’re right, Charlene, Ben Fold’s “I am the Luckiest” brought many of us to tears as Jen dedicated it to Tim. And it was done with just the right sentimentality, with Jen singing to Tim at his seat, and not awkwardly making a fuss by bringing him on stage, as many performers will.

    I also credit the Laurie Beechman with good organization and allowing the fans and cast to mingle as long as they wished after the show. These fan/cast interactions are wonderful and much less rushed than at the stage door.

    One last thing…Jen was available both before and after the show to greet and thank each and every one who attended. The cliche may be “one pays to see the performer entertain, not meet the fans”, but such graciousness adds so, so much to an evening and leaves everyone feeling so happy that he or she came. I am looking forward to Jen’s encore performance on February 10.

    Comment by Howard Tucker — December 19, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  4. Jen is always so peppy when exiting the stage door. She exudes energy and an amazing talent from her Jersey Boys performances to her caberet shows. What makes her so special is how she truly connects to her fans who quickly become her friends, because of her warmth and friendliness. She is genuine and I am happy to be able to say I know her. Greeting her at the stage door is always a highlight for me each time I am at the August Wilson Theater.

    Comment by Beverley Micciche — December 19, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

  5. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. I’ve know Jennifer for many years and have always appreciated her talent and, even more, her giving and loving self.

    Comment by Rose Marie Himes — December 19, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  6. CONGRATULATIONS JENNIFER!!! What you see, with Jen, is what you get!!! A kind, warm, loving, caring and giving human being………PLUS all that talent on top of all that!!! WOW, you can’t go wrong! Jen, you should be so happy and so proud, you worked so hard! I am so proud of you and so happy for you! You so deserve all this wonderful recognition!! I cannot wait until Feb.10th when we’ll all be treated to your wonderful God given talents once again! But, we can always catch you in JB when you’re not doing a cabaret! You are the best and you totally rock girl!! Love and blessings and huge congratulations! Wanda

    Comment by WANDA — December 19, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  7. What a wonderful article about a wonderful person with a beautiful spirit and personality, immensely talented. Jen you are fabulous! See you January 6. Happy Holidays. Love, IE

    Comment by Irene Eizen — December 20, 2007 @ 12:24 am

  8. Thanks for the great recap,Charlene. Those of us that were fortunate to be at Jen’s cabaret witnessed true magic. Jen Naimo is an incredible talent who always gives her all. Her warmth, humor, and beauty shine brightly, along with that magnificent voice. Jen has a long career ahead of her, no matter what venue she chooses. Love you Jen, and look forward to seeing you again soon!


    Comment by Pamela — December 20, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  9. Jen, since most of my work colleagues are off on Monday, we were all hugging “Happy Holidays” on Friday. One of my favorite admins, Gabrielle, and I hugged, and Gabby noted, “Howard, you smell great! What is that scent?” In a loud voice I responded, “Soapppppppp”. It made for a great moment, but should you ever meet Gabby, Jen, could the genesis of that phrase remain our little secret??? (the one or two in our office who were
    ‘in the know’ did not give me away!)

    Comment by Howard Tucker — December 23, 2007 @ 9:54 am

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