October 20, 2008

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Kristofer McNeeley!

October 20th, 2008

We are very excited to present the first of a series of Jersey Boys Vegas cast interviews with the multi-talented Kristofer McNeeley, who plays Hank Mejewski, and other roles! Kristofer talks about his early days; what attracted him to audition for JB; some insights into being part of such an amazing show; and more!

JBB: How’s Vegas, Kristofer?

Kristofer McNeeley: Vegas is fantastic. Vegas has been really good to us. It’s a different experience as an actor, for sure, because the audiences don’t necessarily come just to see Jersey Boys. Maybe it’s what they decided to do once they got here. That’s our perception, anyway.

But it’s a testament to the strength of the show that by the end of the show, we always have ‘em! I think word of mouth makes people get out of their seats a little bit sooner and a little bit more excited to see the show. We’re having a great time!

JBB: From your bio, it looks like you’ve had some amazing theatre, film and TV experiences over quite a few years. How did it all begin for you?

KM: It all began with an audition for Music Man when I was nine years old. I had to miss soccer practice to go. I didn’t get the job and I remember I was in tears, and my mom was like, ‘Listen, if you’re going to do this, you can’t be a baby about it. You have to decide between soccer and this.’

Somehow, I thought the applause might be a little bit more interesting.

So, that’s where it began and then, I actually traveled around the country for years as a child, singing and dancing at conventions. So, a live audience is definitely my first love.

I moved into film and television, because that’s where the work is in Los Angeles.

JBB Tech Half: Is that where you’re from?

KM: No, I’m from Oklahoma, actually, but I moved to Los Angeles out of college. I had a feeling the weather would be good for me and there’s not a lot of theatre there, so I ended up in film and TV, then I took a break for four years, trying to figure out WHY I was doing what I was doing. Jersey Boys was (essentially) my first entrée back in the business after a big break.

JBB: What was it about Jersey Boys that made you audition?

KM: You know what? I often get cast in these types of period pieces, and I used to fight it a little bit. Then, I saw Christian Hoff on the Tonys. I was out of the business at that point. He said something in his speech, basically saying if you got a dream, just keep going for it. At least that’s how I remember it. It was something about him and his persona. It just made me think – and that’s what I needed to get back in the business.

Then, two years later, I auditioned for the show. It was a two-year process to get into the show.

JBB Tech Half: We first saw the show in La Jolla, and Christian Hoff’s opening scene just grabbed the audience!

KM: When we started the rehearsals in New York City, I had just left my wife behind in Los Angeles, we were getting married in November, and I knew I was going to have to miss my honeymoon, and I knew I was going to be away from her. I wasn’t really in my skin during rehearsals in New York City. I was tired and stressed in this little bitty room. Everyone was on everybody’s nerves. We had two weeks to put this show together. I had never seen the show. I had only heard about the show.

So, about a week and a half into the rehearsals, they got us into see the show and I saw Christian perform. From the moment he walked out on stage, it was like all of the stress had melted away. So, this is what it’s all about. It made it very clear to me that Jersey Boys is a tremendous show.

JBB: Considering you’ve been in so many different productions, what makes playing Hank in Jersey Boys unique?

KM: Playing Hank in Jersey Boys? You know what? It’s a bunch of little characters, and I haven’t often gotten to play so many minor character roles. You know, I played Tommy for a couple of weeks in August. At one point, if you would have asked me, I would have said that playing Tommy and then going back to playing Hank may be a bit of a bummer, because Tommy is this huge tremendous energy. But actually, I really missed Hank, because he gets to connect with every single person in that cast throughout the entire show and I really am given a lot of freedom to develop these characters.

Particularly, Mika, who has no lines at all. Mika is probably my favorite character in this track. I love Mika because it’s completely wide open. Jersey Boys is a solid formula by now. So, when you come into a role, particularly one of the Seasons, they know how they want an actor to play that role. That vision is one of the primary reasons for the show’s success. We have the best creative team in the business. Sure there’s a little freedom, but they need the winning ticket…But with characters like Mika, an actor can find himself with a bit more playing room. There’s great freedom in that as an actor, and he’s also a hoot. My wife loves to watch me play Mika, which I think is fantastic!

JBB: We’ve seen lots of Mikas and Hanks. You definitely make both Hank and Mika your own!

KM: I appreciate that, thank you! We were just talking about this last night. We just got Eric Bates in, who’s fantastic. And, when you get a new actor as a Season, it changes all of your interactions as one of the characters. Things that used to work, perhaps don’t read the same anymore, or things that used to get the laughs might not get the laughs now, or vice versa, because everything’s different. It’s one of my favorite challenges as an actor.

You just saw us a week or two ago, and we’re trying to figure out this new energy, which is a lot of fun, because you find something new. I would say I do it slightly differently almost every night, because so many variables change with each show and each actor I work with.

JBB: So, you’ve grown into your roles in a different way with a new Season on board?

KM: Absolutely, because Eric Bates is entirely different from Jeremy Kushnier. As much as they (the creative team) give you all of the specifics as to what one should do as a Season, your instincts as an actor come through if you’re a good actor, and Eric is a very good actor.

JBB Tech Half: Kushnier seemed more like a wise guy, a little edgier. Eric’s looks really remind me of Christian Hoff.

KM: Eric and I were at the very first audition together and I thought, ‘This kid is going to be Tommy. He has to be Tommy.’

Kushnier plays Tommy with an intelligence I identified with. Actually, that’s where my instincts went. So, Kushnier was a great role model for me with that role. But, Erik is great to watch and learn from. That’s also part of my job – to watch and grow.

JBB: You do play quite a few roles when you’re not playing Tommy. How do you keep them all fresh? I realize it’s your training and your profession, but is it tough to keep the roles straight sometimes?

KM: You know, that’s a really valid question. I think it’s different for everybody. For me, the first most important thing is truly that I feel so lucky to do what I do and to have the job that I have, particularly in today’s climate. Having stepped away from the business for a while, I came back to it with new set of eyes. Just being grateful makes it really, really easy to go out there and find something fun. Also, I feel like I have a responsibility to the audience, who collectively have paid a lot of money to see Jersey Boys, to give them Jersey Boys. So, I gotta be Hank; I gotta be Mika.

Sometimes actors “phone it in,” but that’s a frightening thing. Kind of like when you’re driving somewhere and you get where you’re going and you think, ‘How on earth did I get there?’ (Chuckles)

Sometimes, if I’m being honest, I suppose that happens, but most of the time, the audience and being grateful keep me in my headspace.

JBB Tech Half: I was just thinking, when I first got out of school, I was working for an insurance agency, and we had a presentation that was about two and a half hours of meeting your objections. I could give this presentation without even thinking about it. In fact, I’d be thinking about all kinds of other stuff while I was looking someone in the eye, watching their reaction. I was kind of like on autopilot. Is acting kind of like that? And, if it is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

KM: Young acting is like that, I think. I don’t mean that in a bad way. By young, I mean young in the process of a particular project, or young in your career. Because the best actors in the world–all they do is listen and react. So, if you’re not listening, you can’t react correctly – honestly.

You might watch an actor who has been doing a role for a long time, you’ll see one who is heads above other people, because they’re listening. You’ll see another who gives a great performance, but you’re not sure what it’s missing. Often, it’s missing the ability to listen.

Now, in truth there is also an art to acting like you’re listening when you’re not really listening, because you have to think about the change that you have to do next, you have to think about the guitar that’s about to be handed to you, and fifty other things. So, it’s a skill, just like in your example – you probably developed a skill and nobody knew that you were thinking about your grocery list when you were giving your presentation (chuckles).

JBB: When you were chosen for Hank and the other roles, what was your early process of preparing for these roles?

KM: For Hank and all those roles, I really did just what was on the page, then, from there, I kind of finessed it on stage. For Tommy, as a cover, I think the primary responsibility is not to mess with anybody else’s show. So, when you go on as a cover, I think it’s really important to hit the marks in a similar way as the person who does it normally.

So, I studied Jeremy. Jeremy and I became good friends and we have similar personalities. We’re both kind of quiet guys. We do our jobs and we do what we have to do. So, it worked out really well that I could really observe him. I kind of transferred that to the stage with my instincts, with Kristofer in the middle of it.

JBB: What are some of your favorites? Favorite scene? Favorite number?

KM: Lately, I’ve been thinking about certain roles that I will never get to play that I would love to play because of the scenes. I think the Frankie and Lorraine scene in her apartment is a great scene.

As Tommy, my favorite scene is the bar with Lorraine. There’s just something about that tension in that scene is really fantastic. I love it.

My favorite number is “Who Loves You,” because by that point, no matter what kind of show you’ve had or where you think the audience has been, everybody’s in it, right there! It just gets you!

JBB Tech Half: I’ve always said that about “Who Loves You,” too. No matter where we’ve seen the show, that song always does it for the audience and the cast.

KM: It’s a relationship. It’s one of the most fascinating parts of this job for me. You get the audience in their collective mood, whatever that mood may be–tired, a little tipsy, really excited about the show. Then, you get the actors with their collective moods. Then, you have to change this energy for two hours. I think it’s fascinating; you never know what you’re going to get.

JBB: What about your favorite line?

KM: Yes, they took my favorite line out. “Rob a bank…” was my favorite line I loved it because it gave a little bit more for the audience to figure out who this guy was.

I also love the “pearl clutch” that Mika used to do. I love the things that they cut! But they are the experts and I believe they made very smart choices. It’s my job to then make it work.

JBB: The “pearl clutch”? I’m not sure I know about that?

KM: That’s what Des called it. At the couch, when Tommy would say, “Eight rooms on 5th Avenue, how can you be tapped out?” And, Bob Crewe would shoot a look to me and Mika would do the pearl clutch (Kristofer did the “pearl clutch” imitation).

JBB: Do you have any advice to a young actor that would want to audition for one of Jersey Boys companies?

KM: You know, I would say, just walk in the room and do your thing, whatever that is. Don’t apologize and make bold choices. That’s what they want, and don’t give up. I had seven auditions to get into Jersey Boys. You just have to keep going. And the last meeting, I just didn’t care as much anymore, and that’s when I got the job.

JBB: Is there anything you’ve discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before becoming a Jersey Boys cast member?

KM: I don’t like being away from my wife; I’ve discovered that one. She’s an actress, too. She’s in Los Angeles right now. I’ve discovered that it’s important to have a place to go to regularly and not be hopping around. I like being in one place; that’s important to me.

JBB: Have there been any major unexpected surprises that have happened to you since joining the company of Jersey Boys?

KM: Not that I have been doing this forever and ever, but I’ve been doing it long enough that I can honestly say that I don’t think I will ever be part of a show that has this kind of following and fan base and excitement from the audience by the end of the show. I’ve never been in a show where we have a standing ovation every single night.

That’s really amazing. The book and the music are simple and completely purposeful, along with the songs, which are generally based on a few chord progressions and are brilliant and timeless. Together, they form a perfect combination which, I think, has a life far beyond what we do every night! I think that’s pretty amazing.

Thank you once again to Kristopher McNeeley for taking so much time this marvelous and insightful interview! We wish him all the best in Jersey Boys Vegas!


  1. I had the pleasure of seeing Kristofer go on as Tommy on Thursday, September 25, and he was excellent. I also had the opportunity to chat with Kristofer backstage after the show and he was very friendly and a fine gentlemen.

    Comment by David Cace — October 20, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

  2. What a great interview, Tech Half!! We from the San Francisco area greatly enjoyed Kris’s peformances at The Curran and howled when he came out as Mika and started “checking out” the guys while they were meeting with Bob Crewe. Rick Faugno almost lost it one night. We were very disappointed that “Stick to what you know – rob a bank!” was dropped from the Vegas production, but we live in hope that it will be resurrected.

    Comment by LindaL — October 20, 2008 @ 9:23 pm

  3. Kristofer’s delivery of “Rob a bank!” was the only one that ever made me feel sorry for Hank.

    Thanks for a great interview!

    Comment by Leanna — October 20, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  4. JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Kristofer McNeeley! · Jersey Boys Blog…

    An Interview with Jersey Boys Vegas cast member Kristofer McNeeley…

    Trackback by dizzed.com — October 20, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

  5. I too had the privilege of seeing Kris go on as Tommy, twice in mid-August of this year, after JK had left but before EB stepped in. Apprehensive at first and a bit disappointed I wasn’t seeing JK one last time, I was very very impressed with KM’s performance. Totally top-notch. It was clear, as he mentions in the above interview, he had mastered the nuances of Jeremy’s material. JK must have tutored him very well. Ha ha ha. And, as David mentions in the first comment above, Kris was friendly and chatty after the show as well. A real class act.

    An added bonus was that Colin Trahan stepped into Kris’ usual roles, and in my opinion, Colin does the funniest Majewski “Heeeeeeey” around. Plus that dead squirrel also known as Mika’s wig looked hilarious perched atop his head.

    Comment by stubbleyou — October 21, 2008 @ 1:58 am

  6. Nice interview, Kristofer. Christian Hoff’s speech at the Tony’s was indeed very moving and powerful; glad it gave you the incentive to pursue your dream!

    Comment by Howard Tucker — October 21, 2008 @ 6:31 am

  7. Great interview with Kristofer! Love reading about the actors’ early days and how great their Jersey Boys’ experience has been. Can’t wait for the next one!

    Comment by Kelli — October 21, 2008 @ 8:27 am

  8. I really enjoyed this interview. Kristofer’s Mika is hilarious! I too miss the “Rob a bank” line.

    Comment by Krystal — October 21, 2008 @ 10:49 am

  9. Wonderful interview Kris, Susie and Dale…love it
    And the best thing is, Kris is as sweet as he looks.
    The best to you Kris and your wife.

    Comment by Kathy J — October 21, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

  10. Great interview! We loved seeing Kristofer play Tommy. He’s a wonderful actor, and friend!

    Comment by Zeena and Azeem — October 22, 2008 @ 5:36 am

  11. I got the pleasure of seeing Kris play Tommy this week. Unbelievably talented. I can’t imagine anyone playing it better.

    Comment by Terri — February 24, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

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