October 28, 2008

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With John Salvatore!

October 28th, 2008

John Salvatore

Earlier this month, before his Sunday evening performance, we had a marvelous time interviewing Jersey Boys Vegas cast member John Salvatore, who plays Bob Crewe and many other roles! John talks about his early days and his dreams of being in musical theatre; his career before JB; what inspired him to audition for Jersey Boys; what it’s like to play Bob Crewe in Vegas; and more!

Jersey Boys Blog: So great to see you again, John! You’ve been amazing as Bob Crewe! We’d like to know how you got started. How did it all begin for you?

John Salvatore: From the way beginning?? Ohhh, that far back! (chuckled) You know what? I started as a dancer; that was my first love and I was not intended to be a dancer. I was kind of short and fat and wore Earth shoes. I was kind of a loner– the black sheep of the family, the middle of five kids, couldn’t really play sports, but I remember I used to really be intrigued with 1930s movie musicals… Busby Berkeley and Fred Astaire. I used to watch them all the time and just sit there and cry. I thought, ‘I want to do that!’

JBB: So did you immediately begin dance training at an early age?

JS: I started pursuing dance, even though it was not, like I said, something that I really had any exposure to in my family. My family was all really sports-oriented; my father is a lawyer, and we were not very close to show business. I started to take dance class and when I was 14 and a half. I started with tap, then I went to jazz, then ballet, and then I started to learn how to sing, or how to try to sing.

JBB: What about your high school days?

JS: I was very lucky, doing shows in high school, of course, which was everything to me. It took every moment of my mental time, just thinking about it, and I did a summer stock at Gateway Playhouse when I was 16. It was sort of like a big break. This is an Equity theatre now, but back then it was not. It was in Bellport, Long Island. A lot of people got their start out there. I did it between the tenth and eleventh grades, then between 11th and 12th grades.

I accelerated school early. My dad was not very fond of this whole idea, because it was a very…well, you know, it was show business, so I didn’t blame him. Then I was sort of like, ‘Why, what’s the big deal?’ He was a lawyer and had five kids. He was all about getting schooling and all that.

Now, there are a lot of colleges and schools that really have incredible programs. Not so much then. Or, it was very specific with opera or dance, and I wanted musical theatre! I wanted acting, dance, jazz, and tap, whatever! Now, they really have some great programs and I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of schools like Carnegie Mellon.

JBB: How did you finally convince your dad that you wanted to be in dance and musical theatre?

JS: I finally convinced my dad…well, he convinced me to go to college. He said, ‘Just go for six months, I’ll pay for it and you can be a dance major. I just want you to get an education.’

I went to Adelphi University Garden City, which had an incredible dance department…although it was like an hour and a half of jazz; an hour and a half of ballet every day. Looking back in retrospect, I should have probably stuck it out, because there was great technique with the program, but I was very impatient! This was not what I wanted; I wanted musical theatre.

JBB: Did you decide to call it a day with college?

JS: Well, I cut school one day and I didn’t promise my dad, but I knew I shouldn’t really go to any auditions at that time. Back then, it was really hard to get into an audition. You had to be a union member to audition. The only way you could get into a union show if you had a union card. It was a Catch-22. Now, it’s completely different.

I went to an open call; they were looking for singers for Radio City Music Hall. To make a long story short, they were also looking for one dancer. My mom picked me up at school and she told me that some guy called the house about a callback—we didn’t have cell phones back then (chuckled). I was 17 at the time. My mom always secretly gave me money under the table to take dance classes, because my dad didn’t really want me to do that. He was afraid of all the stereotypical things, like I would turn gay, it’s not stable, etc.

Anyway, my mom got really excited, so we kept it a secret. I went to this callback and I got it! They told me, ‘We have one dancer position and we want you to take it.’

JBB: How did you break the news to your dad?

JS: My grandmother, my dad’s mom, had just died, and she had taken us twice a year to see Radio City Music Hall–the show and the movie–and it was the biggest deal for us. We used to get dressed up. We were Italian; they used to dress us up like these little Mafia kids (laughed)….and we’d go on the train, we’d go on the subway–it was a big deal. I remember, it was the most fascinating thing. My dad said that we all would come home and our eyes were as big as golf balls….because it was so spectacular….Even now, it’s just the most spectacular thing to walk into that place.

My dad said, ‘Take the job–leave school.’

Then, it was all about, ‘If Nanna could just be here; if she could just see you…’

Not to be too spiritual, but with her gone, it was like, “Give him a break and let him go do what he wants to do!’

JBB: So what happened after this first big break?

JS: I was very fortunate and very lucky, going from one show to the next. My first big show was Chorus Line at 18–I was SO young!

As the years go on, you learn how to do more. There used to be a dancing ensemble and a singing ensemble….there used to be that much money in a show where they could pay everybody (chuckled). Here are the singers and they don’t dance; here are the dancers and they don’t sing.

Then, it became the ensemble, all together—the singers and the dancers. Then, that wasn’t enough! We did that for a while, then, boy, now you have to act, because we’re going to try to get as many contracts, get all the covers, the swings, and the understudies in the ensemble. It really has changed a lot over the years.

So luckily for me, I pursued a lot of acting and started getting acting roles, which was a great transition, especially after I turned 40.

JBB Tech Half: Have you been performing the whole time since you were 17?

JS: I’ve also had a career as a stage manager. This was at a point when I had a bad knee injury and I was going through a lot of emotional issues in my life. When something challenging happens to you in your life, and you’re down, sometimes you don’t see the light. Pain is a motivator. I got into it too deep and got depressed over it, and thought, ‘Oh my heavens, I’m never going to dance again…’

Of course I did and I pursued other things….which now I’m really grateful for what I did. I stage managed quite a few shows, then got back into acting.

JBB: What brought you to Jersey Boys?

JS: My friend Peter Gregus–I’ve done a couple of shows with him. One day, we were at the gym in New York together. I hadn’t seen the show and I asked him how the show was going.

This was right around the time of the first national tour. Peter said, ‘You’ve got to get in! You are PERFECT for this part! You’ve got to be seen!’ This is, by the way, two years before I got the job.

Peter told me, ‘If anyone can do this role, sight unseen, it’s you. It’s a great part, it’s a great acting role, it’s funny, and you got the best lines in the show.’

I was like, ‘When are you leaving?’ (laughed)

Peter said that he’d put my name in and I should get my agent to put my name in, and I did. Your name just goes on a list and I didn’t hear anything. In the meantime, I went to see the show and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I get it now!’

Then, it sort of dropped. Once I wasn’t called for that position, I just kept asking anytime there was another company, to put me in for it. Then, finally there was—and that was for Vegas.

JBB: What happened during the Vegas audition?

JS: When I auditioned, it happened very fast for me….I know stories that go months and months, but I was in on a Monday: I read, I sang, they called me back later that day to dance. I was called back Wednesday to read all of the Crewe and Donnie parts and to sing again for Des McAnuff. Then, I was called back on a Friday. That Friday was sort of a dance call, but it was really matching people up.

Monday, a week later….they called me and they said, we don’t know of any dates yet, but I got the job for Knuckles, and to understudy Gyp and Bob Crewe, which I did in San Francisco.

I was so thrilled! I didn’t really know what to expect, because I had auditioned for Crewe. When I saw the show, I said, ‘I don’t do any of that; I don’t do guitar; I don’t play drums; and I’m not young enough for those four boys!’ (laughed)

At first, it was very challenging—a really hard show vocally to learn. I realized that the Knuckles character was very responsible for singing a lot of the show backstage, the bass line…I still loved being part of the show. I loved doing Billy Dixon! It was a gas!

Then the opportunity arose at the end of San Francisco. We rehearsed the Vegas version of the show. It was a week long. All of the creative team was there and Jonathan Hadley had to leave to go to the tour and John Altieri was on vacation. For the two presentations that we were doing at the end of the week, I was told that I was going to be Bob Crewe, so I better know what I was doing.

It was very fortuitous for me. I guess it was my opportunity to be seen and to be auditioned, even though I didn’t know that was happening. At the end of the week, after we did both of the shows, we were at a hotel bar, and Des said to me, ‘I’m moving you up the ladder….You’re destined to do this role. Just be patient; you might have to hang around for a while. We don’t know where or when; will you be willing to go to another company…..?’

I was like, “Oh, God, yeah!”

JBB: So, you obviously didn’t mind coming to Vegas?

JS: It was a good feeling coming to Vegas, knowing that was in the cards for me, even though there was no contract signing; it was just word of mouth. You know how much that counts in theatre, but from everything that I heard, Des really kept his word, anytime he’s ever said that to anybody.

I ended up getting the role, under unfortunate circumstances of course, and we all know about that [the untimely passing of John Altieri], which was in and of itself a challenge. Then, sort of trying to go in under the wire, and sort of doing it subtly– to not take away from the role because of the sadness, but to add to it and not feel guilty about making it my own. It was a really mental challenge.

JBB: You did it so well, but I really wondered how tough it must have been for you during that time.

JS: I didn’t even talk about it. I thought, ‘This is your job; this is what you have to do now; you have to focus on this.’ So, Thank God for that.

Because it was new for me, I didn’t have a lot of time to get my own head about it, because I was just so concerned about everybody else around. And now, I love it! It’s a dream job!

JBB Tech Half: What about your Jersey Boys’ favorites: line, number, and scene?

JS: Favorite line is hard because the writing is SO brilliant in this show, that it’s hard to single any one out. Although, I may be partial but, “Look, miss congeniality, it’s a metaphor” is pretty fantastic, don’t you think? It says it all about Tommy.

Favorite number is probably “Who Loves You,” just because it’s so damn exciting and I get to dance a little! Theatrically, “Stay” is staged with such genius and is so brilliantly placed in the context of the show at that point that it gives me chills.

Favorite scene? I’ve always loved the pizza scene. Just made a big impression on me. I also think the “sit down” in Act 2 is pretty terrific because knowing the characters so well at this stage in the show heightens the intensity of the conflict that’s going on between the Seasons.

JBB Tech Half: Your version of Bob Crewe is sensational! The Vegas audience goes nuts every time we’ve seen you on stage! What are the most exciting and fun parts about playing Bob Crewe and what’s your biggest challenge in playing the role?

JS: The most exciting and fun scene for me to do is the bar scene with Gaudio. I think the most challenging thing about the show for me is to stay true to the PLAY and not get sucked in to going too far and becoming a caricature instead of a person. There is a fine line, especially with Crewe. It is important to continue to TELL THE STORY at all times.

JBB Tech Half: You’ve been involved in a lot of spectacular and successful productions over the last several years. Since joining the Jersey Boys company, is there anything that you’ve discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before?

JS: That I am on the right path as an actor.

Thank you so much to the multi-talented John Salvatore for taking the time for this fascinating interview! We wish John all the best in his career!


  1. Hi John! I have met you a couple of times and you are always so warm and friendly. It’s great to see you here on the blog and to discover a bit more about who you are and your contribution to Jersey Boys. I wish you continued success in your career.

    Comment by Gary — October 28, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

  2. Hi John, loved loved loved your Billy Dixon when you performed in San Francisco. You just made us howl. You are a great actor and play Bob Crewe so wonderfully. I’m looking forward to seeing you again in Vegas.

    Comment by LindaL — October 28, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  3. I said it then and I’ll say it now, I always knew John had to play Bob Crewe! We’ve known each other for so long and he has made me laugh harder than most anyone could (both onstage and off) and I knew he would have the respect for the role and the perfect sense of timing to be a brilliant Bob Crewe. I only wish I could take a day off to go see his performance so I could steal things from him! Love you, John, Peter

    Comment by Peter — October 29, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  4. Can’t wait to see John in his role!! :)

    Comment by Joey — October 29, 2008 @ 12:53 am

  5. John what a great actor you are, thanks for sharing your talent with the world

    Comment by Mari Gaines — October 29, 2008 @ 1:20 am

  6. John, you and I met in Vegas at Irene and Buz’s cast party on the opening night of previews. Usually, it’s a fan that chases after an actor at these affairs, but you reversed it with me by pulling me aside to tell me how touched you were by my toast to our hosts and the show. We then spent a few minutes discussing our lives and careers; I guess if any two people speak, there are coincidences, but different as our careers are, we had a great deal in common. Indeed, that discussion of perhaps 10 minutes will be one of my lasting memories of “Jersey Boys”.

    Somehow, it’s so thrilling for me when such talented, deserving people who’ve been in the business for a while finally strike gold…yourself, Christian Hoff, Bobby Spencer, Rick Elice, Peter Gregus, John Altieri, Donnie Kehr, Mark Lotito, Jennifer Naimo, and Travis Cloer to name a few–the list goes on and on.

    Your story also indicates that there are indeed kind and sharing people like Peter Gregus in a business that can be fiercely competitive. Just a few weeks ago, some friends and I were served by a NYC waiter who was an aspiring actor, and he too was helped by Peter.

    Finally, since you liked the scene in Gyp’s basement so much, John, “thank you for sharing”. I knew a lot about your background already, but I am so happy now that all the JB fans can see how delightful and inspirational you are. My best wishes go with you.

    Comment by Howard Tucker — October 29, 2008 @ 9:38 am

  7. I really enjoyed your interview John. Meeting you in Vegas at Irene and Buz’s party was a highlight – you were so warm and a genuinely nice person. I was looking forward to seeing John Altieri again as Bob Crewe in Vegas, but when you had to step in, you made my disappointment turn into a pleasure. My best to you always.

    Comment by Pam F — October 29, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  8. Earth shoes!! OMG, John, you’re dating both of us. The searing dichotomies of the sixties all come back to me now…are you a mod or a rocker?….Beatles or Stones?…Earth shoes or Roots?…Ginger or Marianne?

    It’s been a pleasure seeing your most excellent Crewe several times and chatting with you at “the party” and again mid-August, when my two sons and two of their friends joined me in LV and you gave those four young, young, young, young men some nice autographs, photo ops, and all-around good vibes.

    Hope to catch you and the show again soon. Congrats on your success, and may it cotinue for a long, long, long, long time.

    Comment by stubbleyou — October 30, 2008 @ 5:38 am

  9. John is so wonderful and hilarious as Bob Crewe in Las Vegas! I love finding out about what inspired John and the other actors to follow their dreams!

    Comment by Kelli — October 30, 2008 @ 9:37 am

  10. Happy Happy Birthday John!

    Comment by NewJerseyLasagna — November 3, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  11. John, we loved, loved, loved the show and would see it again! It had been many years since I saw you last (Summerstock:Oklahoma) and I of course was thrilled to see you again in a role I so much enjoyed! I went out and bought the CD, I haven’t stop singing yet! Congratulations on your success, hope to see you again!

    Comment by Joanne — November 12, 2008 @ 11:13 pm


    Comment by Janet — November 13, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

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