We’re excited to present Part Two of our JBB EXCLUSIVE interview with Jeff Madden! In Part Two, Jeff talks about working with the JB Australia cast; what it was like to play the “Frankie” role in a completely new company; his life in Sydney; what’s next for him, and more!
JBB: As you became acquainted with your new castmates, what advice and words of wisdom did they give you regarding the show and the Sydney audience?
JM: They really didn’t have anything to pass on about the show. Because I was in rehearsals here for three weeks, I watched the show a lot. I saw how things worked with this cast, and how the audiences would react. It’s all remarkably similar to our Toronto production, except for the very end of the show. Aussie crowds almost never give standing ovations. Occasionally, a couple pockets of people will stand, but it’s pretty rare here, whereas in Toronto, we got a huge Standing O every single show, which still blows my mind to this day. Oh, and in Sydney, the crowd usually sits still after the bows until the band has finished the playout music, which I kinda love. Toronto audiences are always in a rush to go, it seems. Beat the traffic or something…
JBB: I imagine actors who play the Frankie role must have an incredible connection/bond. As colleagues and fellow-Frankieâ€™s, did you & Bobby Fox share stories from your experiences?
JM: Bobby and I had some really nice chats during the first few weeks here. It seems he and I had remarkably similar experiences in the early stages of rehearsals and the first three months of the run. We hit the same bumps in the road, like vocal fatigue, muscle strains in the neck and shoulders, that kind of thing. We both had to figure out how to do this job six days of the week. It’s incredibly taxing vocally and physically. And then, once you’re up and running there’s the publicity demands on top of it all. So, we definitely connected on many levels in that way.
It’s interesting. Playing Frankie can be rather isolating. If you think about it, you’re onstage almost the whole time, so there’s no time to hang out off-stage during the show. Before each show it takes a long time to warm up, during intermission you need to rest up for Act 2, and then after the show you have to warm down. And you can’t go out to a bar too often because the talking and drinking after a show really tire your voice. There’s very little time to just relax and have fun and be a social person. Because of that, I really wish there was some larger way of supporting one another, some way for Frankies to share stories, maybe some tips, support for each other, etc. I mean, let’s face it, it is an enormous role. It takes over your life. So few people on the planet have done it. And so, we’re all kind-of marked by that experience. It’s something we all share in common.
JBB: Although you are playing the Frankie role that you know inside and out, was there anything totally different that you had to get used to as Frankie in the Sydney show?
JM: Well, nothing was totally different, but there were lots of little changes. There are four or five scenes that have a couple lines cut, some of which happen really quickly, so I had to memorize those changes. Another thing thatâ€™s slightly different is the depth of the stage. The stage here is about a foot or two shorter than in Toronto. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but when you do a knee-slide down to the edge of the stage, and you miss by a foot or two, you could end up in the 2nd row, so, it kinda is a big deal. There are also tons of little differences in the choreography â€“ from the height at which I snap my fingers, to how often I pop my knees, to the way I wrap my arms around my body when doing the â€œWalk Like A Manâ€ marches. So, literally in every scene thereâ€™s something I have had to adapt in my footwork, while still trying to look cool, which if you know me, is quite the challenge!
JBB: Any wild, amusing, or interesting on stage or off stage stories in Sydney that youâ€™d like to share?
JM: One thing I could share is there have been a lot of cast changes at my shows. I’m pretty sure I’ve gone on with every single cast member playing all their understudies and covers! Which has been great fun, actually. The off-stage stories… well, those are best kept in secret I think. You know what they say … ‘What happens in Australia …’ These Aussies can really party.
JBB: We all have our favorite scenes, musical numbers, and lines from Jersey Boys. As Iâ€™ve said before, I loved so much about the four fabulous times that I saw JB Torontoâ€”but each time I experienced your companyâ€™s â€œWalk Like A Manâ€ scene, it ‘Wowâ€™ed’ me more each timeâ€”both personally and seeing the audienceâ€™s screams & cheers! Are there any special scenes/musical numbers/lines in the JB Sydney show that you really seemed to totally connect with as a performer and/or that the audience connected with?
JM: Well, the audiences here really love “Walk Like A Man” too, actually the whole Big 3 (Sherry, Big Girls, Walk) is a smash. But, I mean, they love everything, you know! It’s such a great show!
Personally, I cherish many of the scenes in the show, especially the ones where Frankie learns something or discovers something about his life or his friends. Like the Pizza scene with Mary, the scene where Tommy explains that the two Thugs in the car were scamming him, the marriage breakup scene with Mary, and of course the Sitdown scene in Gyp’s basement. The whole Francine story line breaks me up every show, because not only do I relate to it as a father, I remember my friend the late Lindsay Thomas who played Francine in our Toronto production, who passed away from cancer during our run. I actually sing Fallen Angel every night to her, and it brings me a peaceful feeling. I think that’s what Frankie is doing there, too, so it’s one of those ‘life imitating art imitating life’ moments, you know?
JBB: What about life in Sydney? When you werenâ€™t rehearsing and performingâ€”what were some of your favorite adventures, discoveries?
JM: Sydney is an amazing city. I absolutely love it here. I would highly recommend taking a trip out here to anyone reading this in North America. Even though I’m at the theatre eight shows a week regardless of when I’m performing, I’ve gotten out to see a few of the sights. At the top of my list of favorites is the Sydney Opera House. I could spend hours just staring at it. In fact, I have! It’s sitting right there on the beautiful water, the Harbor Bridge is off to one side and the Royal Botanic Gardens is on the other side. The waterfront is unbelievably amazing. You can just hop on a ferry and it’ll take you on the most amazing ‘harbor cruise’. Especially when they go right around the Opera House. It appears so different from different angles. Up close it looks different than when you stand 100 feet away. It’s quite mysterious actually. A wonder of artistic expression and architecture. It blows my mind.
Let’s see … what else? The weather is just about perfect, there is so much sunshine. I’ve really enjoyed getting to the beautiful beaches, swimming in the ocean, and body-surfing in the waves. The beaches are just a short bus-ride from downtown, and are glorious. I’ve also enjoyed watching cricket and rugby on TV, believe it or not. Aussies are just as passionate about their sports and teams as Canadians are about hockey and baseball. Maybe more. I love that there are a million restaurants downtown, and that there are always tons of people walking around everywhere. It’s busy, but not in a gloomy, get-out-of-my-way energy that can sometimes happen in big cities. Oh, and the nightlife. I’m not sure if you knew this, but Aussies like to drink. Shocking, I know. But, they really know how to have a good time!
JBB: Considering you were a two-show Frankie, did you have a chance to really explore Down Under?
JM: Not really, no. I did get out to see the Blue Mountains, which was a lot of fun. They’re not quite the Rockies, but still quite remarkable, and just a couple hours from Sydney. Australia is a huge country, and with only one day off a week, it’s a bit daunting to try to get out there and explore. I’ll have to come back another time, I guess.
JBB: Now that itâ€™s coming to a close, what will you miss most about the Sydney experience?
JM: I’ll miss the people, without a doubt. The whole Jersey Boys team here were so welcoming and friendly – the creatives, cast, crew, musicians, everybody. I had the best time coming to work every day and hanging out. And of course, I’ll miss doing the show. I really can’t think of a better job for a guy like me out there. Playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys challenges you on a nightly basis, makes you be the best you can be, gives you such a rush, and thrills thousands of people each week. It doesn’t get any better than that. I’ve had the pleasure of playing this role about 520 times so far. If this is the end of the line for me, then I can live with that. If I’m blessed enough to get another chance to play this role somewhere, that would be awesome. Either way, I’m a very lucky guy. I have so much to be thankful for.
JBB: Whatâ€™s next for you on the horizon, following your role as Frankie in JERSEY BOYS Down Under?
JM: I’d love to let some of my friends entertain me! There’s so many shows I’m looking forward to seeing in the Toronto area. At the Shaw Festival where I worked for eight seasons, I want to see the musicals My Fair Lady and Maria Severa, while at the Stratford Festival I want to see Des McAnuff’s Jesus Christ Superstar and Camelot.
I’m also stoked about Jersey Boys Toronto producers Dancap’s new summer season. There’s no way I’m missing Next To Normal and the Sinatra show Come Fly Away. And I haven’t seen Billy Elliot yet, so that’s on the list too. Lots of good stuff to get to this year.
As for upcoming work, I’m excited to be singing in Theatre 20′s first fundraising concert on May 9th, and taking part in a workshop of a new Canadian musical by Allen Cole. I’m really looking forward to that. Other than these two projects, I’ll be devoting my energy towards auditioning for film and television, continuing to write songs, and hopefully get a few concerts happening. And, I want to record another CD in the near future. I can’t wait for that!
Before I sign off, I just want to say a big thank you to all my fans out there, wherever you may be. And to thank the fine folks at Jersey Boys Blog for this opportunity and the great exposure you have given to this show and it’s talented cast members. You guys have been great. All the best to you in the future!
You’re so welcome, Jeff! To quote Tommy DeVito, “It’s like our mission!”
Thank you so much to Jeff for this marvelous interview and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors !