August 20, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Chicago Cast Member Timothy Quinlan!

August 20th, 2009

Timmy Quinlan
Timmy Quinlan

Before his performance on Sunday afternoon July 12, we had a marvelous time chatting with swing cast member Timothy (Timmy) Quinlan, who was playing Billy Dixon during the week. Along with finding out about how he followed his acting dreams and what led him to audition to JERSEY BOYS, Timmy talks about the excitement and challenges of being a swing cast member, his favorites from the show, why he loves playing so many roles in the show, and more!

JBB: Great to meet you, Timmy! What do you want to tell the world about how you got started in show biz?

TQ: Oh, Jeeez, I always knew I was going to be an actor. My parents brought a drawing to my college graduation that I had made when I was five years old in kindergarten. They said, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’

It was a picture of me with this triangle around me. They said, ‘What is this? Is this you on a boat?’

I said, ‘No, I’m in a spotlight.’

I knew exactly what I was going to do; I always knew. It was just a matter of how I was going to do it.

JBB: How did you go about reaching your dream?

TQ: Well, I went to college at Wagner College on Staten Island, New York–same as Craig Laurie, Renée Marino, and Katie O’Toole–and got some training and experience and dove right in. I started auditioning and I lived out of an army duffel bag for three years, going from job to job to job. I just enjoyed the gypsy lifestyle. Then, I started to get a little pickier and started to get a little nicer jobs, and here I am.

JBB: What about some of your previous memorable roles?

TQ: Well, one of the things they taught me in college was that you have to know how to dance. If you’re going to do musical theatre, you’ve got to start dancing—period. And, that ended up becoming one of my strengths. I didn’t know that I was a dancer. Not really—not the way some people dance their whole lives. I danced a little as a teenager, but dancing became one of my things.

Specifically, I got to play at school and on tour Tulsa in Gypsy—and that’s a big eight-minute solo dance.

JBB: Wow, that was big!

TQ: Yeah, that’s a big deal! That will give you some confidence to go out into the world. If you can hold the audience’s attention for eight minutes, that’s something. And, you learn from that, too. That was one that was early on, for sure.

JBB: What led you to audition for Jersey Boys?

TQ: I had taken a break from the business. I burned out and took about four and a half years off. In that time, Jersey Boys opened on Broadway and I saw it in previews, because I had a good friend who was in the Broadway cast and he got me a ticket. He’s the Tommy DeVito right now on Broadway.

JBB: Dominic Nolfi?! He’s fantastic!

TQ: Yes, Dominic Nolfi is fantastic! He was a swing then and went on for Bob that night. The first thing I said at the end of the show was, ‘Well, they finally got it right. They finally made the perfect musical.’

I love musical theatre and I just thought this was a perfect show where they did everything right. I wasn’t in the business and I thought, ‘That’s a shame—I would love to be in this—some day.’

So, when I decided to go back into the business, I started learning the guitar, hoping to audition for Jersey Boys.

So, I started taking guitar lessons, not really, somebody taught me a couple of chords. I got an agent and got back in the business. The first thing I said to her at the meeting was, ‘I’m learning the guitar. Please try to get me an audition for Jersey Boys. I think I can book that show.’

Six months later, I was here in Chicago. She got me an audition right on the spot.

JBB: So, what happened at the audition?

TQ: She told me to ‘bring your guitar.’ I still only knew two chords (chuckles).

Merri Sugarman said, ‘We really need guitar players.’

I said, ‘Yeah, I know, but that’s all I got.’ Merri said, ‘I think we’ve got a spot for you.’

JBB: You’ve been in so many musicals, Timmy. I’m curious about what sets Jersey Boys aside for you as ‘the perfect musical’?

TQ: It’s perfect because first of all, it never stops. There’s never a stop in the action. In this day and age, when people’s attention spans are so short, we need that. It took the jukebox musical, which I never really cared for, because it is always this forced story around the songs–Jersey Boys took the real life story of this band and their songs—this is their story.

And who knew that a band could go through so much? It’s not a boy meets girl story; it’s a rags to riches story. It’s the American dream that lifts people.

JBB: What’s your favorite musical number in the show?

TQ: Oh, it’s probably “Dawn”—the closing of Act One. The way it begins out of the blue, I love it! When I saw that on Broadway, the first time…In New York, the audience is very vocal. The audience is talking through the whole thing; they break the fourth wall. Once they’ve broken the fourth wall, they can talk to them.

I said right out loud…when I heard (singing beautifully), ‘Pretty as a midsummer’s morn’—I said, ‘Oh My God!’…It’s one of my favorites!

Then, the monologue in the middle that Bob tells, describing the fans. That’s my dad and his brothers. That really touched me and still does.

When I play Bob, I always stop and give that monologue a good reading, because that deserves it. I’ll be playing Bob next week.

JBB: Wow! Let’s fly out next week to see your performance.

JBB Tech Half: Better yet, let’s just stay! (Chuckles)

JBB: What about your favorite scene?

TQ: Also Dawn–the backstage moment with the lights. People love that! It gives the audience a different perspective–from backstage. It puts them in the position of the Four Seasons for a minute and they get to see what it feels like to be onstage.

JBB: What about your favorite line?

TQ: I think the best line in the show is when Nick Massi says, ‘You sell a hundred million records; see how you handle it.’

I think fame is a nightmare; I can’t even imagine.

JBB Tech Half: It’s crazy; it’s something that people seek out, and then when they get it, no one can really realize how it’s going to affect them. Then, like you said, what do you do?

TQ: Take Paul Rudd, for example. His career has taken off so much in the last five years that he is just now started to complain about it, saying, ‘I can’t walk down the street anymore.’

He said, ‘I never meant for this to happen and there’s nothing I can do about it.’

He makes all his movies with his friends, and he feels he can’t say no to his friends. He can’t even walk down the street with his kid. I can’t even imagine that or want anything like that.

JBB: As a swing cast member, you are covering for so many different roles (Barry Belson & others; Norm Waxman & others; Joey & others; and Billy Dixon & others). You’ve been great this week as Billy Dixon! We’ve interviewed so many swings from many Jersey Boys’ companies. To me, being a swing seems like a tough gig—sometimes, you’ll know 20 minutes before that you’ll be going on for Norm or whomever, right? What are the most exciting and the toughest parts of the swing gig?

TQ: The best part about being a swing is the idea of the unknown. Which character will I have to assume in a blink. The hardest part is changing harmony lines. Between the six roles I cover, I have to know just about every harmony in the show. It’s daunting. But it keeps me busy, working on it.

JBB: Understudying for the Bob and Tommy roles must be incredible! Besides massive rehearsing, what did you do on your own to get to know more about these two amazing characters?

TQ: Covering Bob and Tommy is a lot of fun. As an actor, you want to make the character your own, but the truth is, the guys that do it every night were directed a certain way. And so much of what they do works for the show, so, if it ain’t broke…

JBB: Considering you play SO many different roles in the show—do you have a favorite role and why?

TQ: Every role I cover is my favorite in its own way. Bob for the great songs; Tommy for the arc of his character throughout the show; Norm because he does so many different things; Joey for the great laughs; Barry for the excellent characters; Billy Dixon for ‘Trance.’ What can I say? I love my job.

JBB: So, Timmy, you’ve been in musical theatre for so many years. Since joining the Jersey Boys Chicago company, have you learned anything about yourself that you didn’t know before?

TQ: I never knew I could handle this job of being a swing. I’ve always thought of myself as versatile, but always pictured being a swing to be next to impossible. I’m not tooting my own horn, but it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. I just hope I can meet the challenges it presents to me.


  1. Timmy Quinlan is such a versatile performer. I really enjoyed finding out more about him and his road to Jersey Boys. Loved the spotlight story, too.

    Comment by TeresaJ — August 20, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  2. I have been lucky to see Timothy as Bob twice (Including his performance as Bob). He’s amazingly talented and I really enjoyed watching him, especially during Cry for Me.

    Comment by Cassie — August 20, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  3. These Chicago cast interviews are so informative. I’ve been lucky enough to see Timothy Quinlan as Billy Dixon and Bob. He was great in both roles! He really gives that monologue a “good reading” (as he says) when Bob is talking about people who followed the Four Seasons.

    Comment by Pat — August 20, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  4. Saw Timmy as Bob a few weeks ago and he was so great. Agree with TeresaJ — Timmy’s versatility is amazing.

    Comment by Becky — August 20, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  5. Timmy is amazing. I got to talk to him after a show and I told him how much I love his Yannick… it was amazing!! Timmy is amazing!! I love to watch him on stage.

    Comment by Maranda — September 19, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

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