February 17, 2010

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Kristofer McNeeley!

February 17th, 2010

Kristofer McNeeley
Kristofer McNeeley

We were in for a marvelous surprise at JERSEY BOYS Las Vegas last month–seeing Kristofer McNeeley stepping in as “Tommy DeVito,” who was fantastic in the role! Kristofer was our very first Vegas JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview back in the fall of 2008 and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to catch up with him again! Kristofer talks about the excitement of being in JB for so long; how he keeps his “Hank” tracks so fresh after all this time; his upcoming week (Feb. 22-28) of playing role of Tommy DeVito; and some other BIG news!

JBB: Great to see you, Kristofer! What’s been going on?

Kristofer McNeeley: It’s always great to sit down with you, Susie. And all is fantastic in our little world – thank you for asking! Vegas is treating us very well, both professionally and personally. We’re working hard to keep the show in top form and refine what we do each night while my wife, Ali Spuck, is busy starring in her own Cabaret Show, Here I AM, Sundays at the Liberace Museum and producing VS. A Rock Cabaret…AND the biggest news of all – we’re welcoming our first child, a baby girl, into our family this June! Life is very busy, to say the least but we’re having an amazing time.

JBB: Congratulations to you and Ali, Kristofer! That’s fantastic news that you’ll be having your own little rockin’ ‘Angel’ soon! It must be an incredibly exciting time for both you & Ali right now. Are you counting down to becoming a dad?

KM: Thank you! I’m counting the days, hours, minutes. Already finding myself awake early in the morning after just a few hours sleep with lists of things I want to do. I suppose that’s instinct kicking in and preparing me, although it all seems pretty surreal right now. I am definitely grateful for the nine months to wrap my mind around the idea of being a dad. My wife doesn’t really have that luxury. Life has already become so different for her – in an amazing way. I could never go through the changes and sacrifices she is experiencing with such grace and patience.

JBB: So, you’ve been a member of the JERSEY BOYS company now for over two years—playing Hank and so many other characters. How have Hank and all of your other characters evolved since the early days in the show?

KM: I would say the characters I brought to the stage when we opened in San Francisco in November 2007 are, at the core, the same. However, during any given performance they take on different colors – depending on the audience, who is on in the scene that night opposite me, where I am physically and mentally. Most are subtle differences that perhaps only people like you who have seen the show multiple times would notice.

As an actor, my primary responsibility is to the material – to tell the story as the author and composer intended. I would say in two years, I feel much more solid as a storyteller in each of the roles – and the slight variations in each show just keep the moments fresh and more interesting to play and hopefully to watch.

JBB: I’ve heard from other actors in other companies that after a few years playing the same roles in one musical, it becomes a different job. Has this happened to you as well?

KM: It’s interesting that you use the word ‘job’ when asking that question, because in essence that’s exactly what it becomes. I have never done 900+ performances of the same show, and it has definitely offered me a new perspective. To have the opportunity to come to work six days a week for two years and speak the same words and sing the same music is a rare experience for actors, much less in a show the caliber of JERSEY BOYS. I find myself counting my blessings even more and wondering where the time has gone. I have a great job – not just an exciting new project, but a job I love which allows me to provide for my family in a wonderful way.

JBB: So, Kristofer, you’ve been understudying the Tommy DeVito role and we’ve had the marvelous pleasure to see you twice as Tommy and you were fantastic! Just last month, watching you as Tommy was truly a treat—seeing you as this dangerously charming, cocky wiseguy! As an understudy, how do you keep on your toes to go into one of the most demanding roles in JERSEY BOYS?

KM: Thanks, Susie. That compliment means a lot coming from someone who has seen so many actors in the role. I think the simple answer is that I love my work and I’m a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to what I bring to the stage – whether I am playing Tommy or Mikka or ‘the guy with his head down on the table in the Strand.’ I am very specific in my choices, and try to hit the exact same marks every show – and then allow for play in the spaces between. When it comes to stepping in to play Tommy, that kind of focused approach keeps me on my toes. At the beginning of the process, I was able to rehearse the role quite a bit, which obviously helps – now that we don’t rehearse as much I do my best to listen to what Deven is doing every night and to keep my mind and body in top shape so that when I get the call I am absolutely ready to go.

JBB: So far, you’ve understudied for three different Tommy’s in JERSEY BOYS Vegas—Jeremy Kushnier, Erik Bates, and Deven May—how has your Tommy evolved and what have you learned from three different Tommy’s?

KM: I am not ashamed to admit that I borrow many of my ideas as an actor from other actors’ work. That’s pretty much the foundation of what every artist does, I think – they observe and interpret what they see and hear. As I see it, my job as an understudy is to do my best to make it easy for my fellow actors to approach their show the same when I am on as when the primary actor in the role is on. With Jeremy, for example, it was the swagger and cool, cocky confidence – with Deven it is the grounded, easy attitude he brings to the role. Erik had a bit of that easiness as well, perhaps because he first covered Deven. I’ve found my interpretation of Tommy somewhere in the middle. It’s been interesting as an actor to feel the change as I meld their choices into my performance. Slowly but surely, they have all taken on a life of their own and become my version. But if you look closely at my performance, you can definitely pick out an homage or two to Kushnier or May.

JBB: Great to hear that you’ll be playing Tommy while Deven May is on vacation from February 22-28! Prior to going in next week as Tommy, will your routine at work be a lot different than it is when you’re Hank? Will you have more rehearsals? More warming up? Considering you will be playing Tommy for an entire week, what do you hope to bring to the role?

KM: I’m excited to have another run in the role. Getting eight shows back-to-back allows me to discover new moments and refine my performance. As for my routine at work, not much will change. I approach both tracks with the same kind of focus I mentioned earlier. However, I would be lying if I said Tommy is not more physically and mentally challenging for me at this point – if for no other reason, than I just don’t get the chance to be up there in those shoes night after night as I am in the Hank track. But I like that challenge – in fact, I thrive on it. I think most actors do. If I do my work and live up to that challenge, the audience, cast and crew should feel completely secure in my work and forget that I am not up there in that particular role every night and that way they can concentrate on doing what they came to do. That’s my goal.

JBB: How have you grown as an actor after all this time in JERSEY BOYS? What do you find the most challenging and most exciting part of the job?

KM: I was just saying to my wife last November after my last run as Tommy that I was so grateful to have been working on the same show for so long. I realized during that week that a very unique perspective comes with being part of such a long run – the gift of real perspective and growth as an actor. The gift of having the time to experiment with 350 different choices before finding the perfect moment. That’s a priceless and relatively rare experience in our work. The challenge, of course, is to keep the work fresh and new, but that’s also the exciting part for me. I don’t think one day goes by that I don’t learn something – however small. I am a far, far better actor, musician and hopefully collaborator than I was two years ago. I could not have asked for more from this experience, and it’s still going. What a blessing, huh? I’m a fortunate man.


  1. Love this interview with Kristofer McNeeley! I’ve never seen him play Tommy DeVito, but hope I get to some day when I get back to Vegas. Wonderful news that he’ll be a dad soon.

    Comment by Lori — February 18, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  2. You lucky people that get to see Kristofer as Tommy! Great interview, Susie. I love that his enthusiasm and genuine attitude shows through in the interview. Kristofer has always been so wonderful and kind to the fans, myself included. My congratulations go out to him and Ali on their upcoming addition to their family.

    Comment by Krystal — February 18, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  3. I had the pleasure of seeing Kristofer go on as Tommy in Vegas and he was fabulous. And I had the added pleasure of speaking with Kristofer after the show and he is a fine young gentlemen. Congratulations to Kristofer and his wife on the great news.

    By the way, playing the guy with his head on the table in the Strand is better than Errol Flynn’s first Hollywood role, which was a corpse – “who knew?”

    Comment by David Cace — February 18, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

  4. I really enjoyed this interview with Kristofer McNeeley. So interesting to see how he has grown as an actor over the last two years and how he continues to learn from the roles. Also, best wishes to Kristofer & his wife on their exciting news!

    Comment by Stephanie — February 19, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  5. I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing Kristofer go on as Tommy and he is fantastic in this role.

    Congratulations on the news about the baby.

    Comment by Linda/Tiggerbelle — February 19, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  6. David, didn’t Kevin Kostner have the same role in “The Big Chill?”

    I’ve seen Kristofer as Tommy three times, and I echo Linda’s and David’s sentiments above. His descriptions in this interview about being influenced by other actors really matches what I’ve seen. I first saw him as Tommy in twice in August ’08, in that “window” when Jeremy Kushnier had just left Vegas but Erik Bates hadn’t yet arrived. He was very good and I noticed lots of similarities to JK’s portrayal. I can still see KM tugging down on the cuff of his shirtsleeve as he came down the stairway and thinking how that reminded me of JK (which is pretty funny cos at my age, remembering anything from a year and a half ago is pretty remarkable). In a pleasant chat after the show he confirmed this and I agreed with him that of course JK was a great model to “go to school” on.

    Fast forward to last month and I could really see how working behind a few other Tommy’s now has allowed him to combine styles and smooth out his portrayal into his own unique combination of style and mannerisms. As good as he was in ’08 he now comes across smoother and more confident. I like the blend.

    I’ve seen six actors as Tommy and in my humble opinion KM could easily be a first-string Tommy somewhere. If you get a chance to see him next week or whenever, you will not be disappointed. ;-)

    Comment by stubbleyou — February 20, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  7. Been a fan of Kristofer since watching him play Hank in San Francisco. So nice to finally see him perform as Tommy DeVito. What a treat to watch him in his own unique style. I agree with Stubbleyou, Kris could easily fit into a permanent Tommy role.

    Comment by Linda — February 21, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

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