September 5, 2010

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Jeff Madden!

September 5th, 2010

By Frances Fong-Lee, JBB Special Correspondent

Frances Fong-Lee: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me, Jeff. How does it feel to be part of the award-winning, critically and viewer-acclaimed hit show “Jersey Boys”?

Jeff Madden: It feels amazing! It’s been the best job I’ve ever had; it’s been a dream job. It’s sad to see it end, for sure, but it’s been a dream come true.

FFL: When did you decide that you wanted to be involved in theatre?

JM: That’s a good question. I didn’t really know until I was like halfway through my (Human Biology) degree at University of Toronto. I was always performing; I was always in music, and ever since I was a kid, I was in a lot of bands in high school and stuff like that; in choirs. But I’d never been in a school where they had a Drama program. I just never got involved in that. And then in university, I just kind of fell into a show – a musical, and I liked it very much, and then I fell into another one, and then another one, and then another one. And then halfway through my degree I was like: “Wait a second! Can you make a living doing this?!” And then I started doing some research and all that. So I decided to finish my degree, but during my last two years at U of T, I started taking singing lessons and acting classes outside of the program, obviously, because I was still getting my Science degree – so privately. And then when I graduated, I just tried to get some work and see what would happen, and that was about thirteen and a half years ago. –laughs- So I guess it’s worked out pretty well.

FFL: And I noticed that you were involved in 16 productions with the Shaw Festival, including “Mack and Mabel”, “Floyd Collins”, and “Caesar and Cleopatra”, just to name a few. How did these experiences and your time with Shaw help prepare you for your role in “Jersey Boys”?

JM: It was a great help! The Shaw Festival is one of the best places to work anywhere hands down. As an actor, you just learn so much because you’re working with some of the best actors in the country, of all age ranges; you’re working with some of the best directors in the entire country of all age ranges –laughs-. And you’re working on plays that are maybe some of the best plays ever written and then you’re working on some plays that no one’s ever heard of before, so you get the whole spectrum of “why isn’t this working?” or “this works because…” and then you have the infrastructure. So you’re there for 8 months and you can take voice classes and you can just be a sponge, and so that’s what I did – that’s what I was for 8 years: I was a sponge. I worked hard and I learned as much as I could from as many different people there; and I’m sure that had I not had my time at the Shaw, I wouldn’t have gotten this part.

FFL: Wow! That’s awesome!

JM: Yeah.

FFL: What led you to audition for “Jersey Boys”? Tell us about the audition process.

JM: Well, my agent led me to audition for “Jersey Boys”. He saw a breakdown for future replacements, and I was available and he said: “What do you know about the show?” and I said “not much” and he said “look into it” and so I did, but I didn’t think that I’d be auditioning for Frankie Valli! I listened to the soundtrack recording and I loved it, and so I told him “yeah sure, I’ll go in and audition” and then he said “well, we’ve got a time for you – an audition slot” and it was for Frankie, and I was like: “uhhh, really? You think I can sing that high?” and he’s like: “well, can you?” –Jeff laughs- So I just gave it a try. And I worked really hard at the material and I did pretty well. They gave me a couple call-backs right away and then nothing happened for about a month, which is not uncommon. And then all of a sudden they said “you have another audition for the director”, so then I knew it was serious; and then after that – a couple of days after that audition, they said “you’re flying down to New York – we’re going to put you up. You’re going to audition for some people down there” and I was like: “Okay! This is getting very serious!” At that point, I still didn’t know for what – I knew it was for Frankie, but I didn’t know if it was for Frankie six times a week, Frankie twice a week, for a Joe Pesci – I didn’t know if it would be in Vegas, if it would be in Los Angeles or wherever; I had no idea! So it wasn’t until after the second time they asked me to fly to New York, that they announced that there was going to be another Canadian replacement cast; and so then, I believe I had five auditions all together and one work session.

FFL: Okay, so let’s talk about the character that you play in the show: Frankie Valli. What did you do to prepare for that part?

JM: Well, I listened to a lot of that music because I knew it would be important to be able to sing a little bit like him, if not exactly like him. I had to work on my flexibility in that top range to be able to get up and down out of the falsetto– that was really tricky. And even after I got the job and we started working on it, I was given lots of information of course, by the “Jersey Boys” team, giving us everything we needed. But we only had six weeks of rehearsal, so it was hard. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life; to try to learn this show and give it the kind of performance it demands and deserves.

FFL: Also, I know that you observed and rehearsed a bit with the “Jersey Boys” National Tour when they were here in Toronto. Did Joseph Leo Bwarie and/or Graham Fenton (the two Frankie’s on the Tour) give you any advice on playing the role of Frankie Valli?

JM: Yeah! I did see the Touring production I think three times. And I was lucky enough to, in our final week of rehearsal, track Joe (Bwarie) backstage. They invited us one or two at a time to come during a show and sort of watch from the wings, and sort of stay out of the way –laughs- because the show is very complicated backstage, but just sort of track him and see how it works from the backstage point of view because you’re always running onstage or offstage; you’re always changing your clothes and then running back on – it’s very complicated! And Joe was a real gentleman! By that time I already had five weeks of rehearsal – we were getting ready to move into the theatre, so I didn’t have too many questions. I just asked him: “do you do this warm-up?” he’s like “yeah”; “do you stretch your hamstrings? Because your splits are coming up in Act 2”, and he’s like: “Yeah, I definitely do that at intermission”, you know stuff like:. –laughs- “Do you go to the bar very often?” “No, not very often. You know I have to watch my voice.” “Do you drink a lot of water?” “Yeah, I drink a lot of water” – it’s just simple stuff. It was just basically confirming everything that I had heard and that I knew I would have to do going forward.

FFL: What would you say is the most challenging part about playing Frankie Valli?

JM: For me, I think the most challenging part is the endurance; doing it every day. Doing the show six times a week is – I don’t know how else to describe it – it’s like you’re running a marathon, I don’t know if it’s the equivalent of a marathon, but you have to build up your stamina so that you can do it, and then whatever rest you get the next day, but you do it again, and then again, and then again, and then again, and there’s no time off! –laughs-

FFL: Except for Mondays.

JM: Yeah, so you’ve got to really be in good shape; you’ve got to really be dedicated to the routine of being careful with your voice; being consistent in the show, like not doing anything out of the ordinary, like always doing things about the same way so that you develop the muscle memory, and then trying to stay healthy – eating really well and vitamins and sleep. Sleep is so essential and that’s something I really struggled with because when I started, I had two young kids and we weren’t sleeping enough – it was a struggle. So until that endurance got going, yeah, that was the hardest thing for me.

FFL: Since there are so many “Jersey Boys” productions all over the world and since you play the role six times a week, how do you keep it fresh? How do you make your Frankie Valli unique?

JM: That’s a great question (how do you keep it fresh?). It’s just kind of our job. I don’t know how to really describe it, but as actors it’s your job to just be in the mindset that this is happening to you for the first time, and every time is the first time; and for the audience it’s their first time, well not everybody in the audience, but the majority of the people in the audience! I can make believe enough to feel like it’s the same – the first time every time.

FFL: What was it like winning the 2009 Dora Mavor Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Principal Role as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys”?

JM: It was amazing! I’m very fortunate and it means a great deal that the theatre community in Toronto thinks of me in that way.

FFL: What is a typical show day like for you – including preparation?

JM: Wow! I don’t know if there’s a typical day, because, I have two little girls. When I started the show, my eldest was just two and my youngest was seven months old. So in the early days, there is no typical day because there’s no routine. Sometimes I get a good night’s sleep, sometimes I don’t. That might mean that I have to leave the house early, in other words, to kind of focus and relax; decompress from the day because we gotta go and do a show. But now that the kids are a bit older, I guess I eat well and I play with my kids and if there’s stuff around the house that needs to get done, like laundry and, there’s just tons of laundry –laughs- and tons of dishes because of them and everything like that; we do all that stuff. And then usually by mid-afternoon I get a couple hours to myself to think about the show, and sometimes I do a little singing, maybe 20 minutes of warming up, and then you know, sort of carry on. When I get to the theatre, I usually get to the theatre at about quarter to seven, for an eight o’clock show, and I do another 20 minutes of physical warm-up – I do yoga before every show in my dressing room which really helps focuses me and keeps my flexibility great, and then I spend about another 20 minutes to half an hour warming up my voice. Yeah, it’s a good hour and a half probably everyday of prep to do this show for me.

FFL: Also, what was it like meeting THE Frankie Valli for the first time?

JM: Well, the first time I met Frankie was my final audition for Jersey Boys. I’d never been that nervous in my life because I knew that the job was on the line and that I was actually meeting this legend, and then I had to pretend to be him in a small tiny room, and he’s sitting ten feet away from me with Des (McAnuff) on his right and one of his son’s on his left and that’s it! Nobody else in the room, just me and… man, I was so nervous! But he was a real gentleman, and since then we’ve met a few times and had a couple interviews, and he’s been very generous; he’s given me lots of nice comments and compliments and letting me know I’m doing a good job and giving me some helpful hints. I mean, I think I can relate to him because he knows I have two kids also, and both he and Bob Gaudio have told me: “when the show’s over, spend some more time with your kids”; that’s something that they both missed out on, and so that’s their advice to me.

FFL: What’s your favorite musical number in the show? What about your favorite scene? And your favorite lines in the show?

JM: Favorite musical number: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”

Favorite scene: I guess the sit-down.

Favorite line in the show? I think probably the last line because that means that we’re done – we’ve made it to the end in one piece. What is the last line? “That was the best!” –we both laugh- Because I know that I’ve made it! I made it to the end!

FFL: Since joining the “Jersey Boys” Canadian Company, have you learned anything about yourself that you didn’t know before?

JM: Just that I can handle just about anything. I think if you can do this show six times a week for 21 months, I think you can pretty much handle anything – I can’t think of any job that’s more physically challenging and more technically demanding. So that feels great to know that I can do that.

FFL: And the last two questions. Do you have any advice for actors who would like to play Frankie Valli?

JM: Just keep at it! Get your training, keep working on your voice and your acting and your dancing, and if it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be. Certainly that’s the case with me. I got into it late, but I think it was meant to be; I found the right thing for me. So if it’s the right thing for you, it’ll work out.

FFL: Awesome! And last question: Do you have any projects lined up after “Jersey Boys” ends?

JM: Nothing yet. Nope.

FFL: But you will keep your fans posted?

JM: Oh of course! Of course! On Facebook, on my blog, yeah. I’m auditioning for lots of stuff; I’m not worried. I think some things will happen; I’ll be fine.

FFL: Well thank you very much Jeff!

JM: Thanks a lot, Frances!


  1. Frances, just when I was getting used to life without JB Toronto, you pulled me back in with 2 great interviews! I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jeff – how will he top this role? Any more interviews with the Toronto cast to share with us? They help ease the pain!

    Comment by JS — September 5, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  2. he looks like the 40 year old virgin guy.

    Comment by Sandy — September 6, 2010 @ 2:49 am

  3. Hi JS,

    If you scroll down the Jersey Boys Blog main page, you should be able to find the interviews that I did with Dan Sullivan (Tommy) and Quinn VanAntwerp (Bob) :) If not, you can search those names in the “Search” bar to the right of the page. Hope that helps! :)
    And I’m glad you enjoyed these two interviews — hope you like the other two as well!

    Comment by Frances — September 6, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

  4. Great Job, Frances! Enjoyed this discussion/interview you had with Jeff! I can hardly wait to see what will be next for him! It will happen when the time is right! Break a Leg, Jeff! Godspeed!

    Comment by Chiara — September 6, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

  5. Of course I had read the interviews with Quinn and Dan! I was just hoping you might have more up your sleeve. I hate the thought of JB Toronto now disappearing from the Jersey Boys Blog!

    Comment by JS — September 6, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

  6. Well, JS, I actually have one more interview with another member of the JB Toronto company! :)

    Comment by Frances — September 7, 2010 @ 7:09 am

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