After far too many months without seeing Jersey Boys on Broadway, the JBB Tech Half and I had an marvelous time seeing the show and visiting with the cast earlier this month! Part of the excitement was our interview with the amazing Michael Longoria, prior to his incredible Sunday afternoon performance on January 13. Can a Sunday get much better? After portraying a sensational Joe Pesci since Jersey Boys opened on Broadway, and later the matinee Frankie Valli, since late November, Michael has now taken over the Valli role! We had a great time talking to Michael about his reaction to the news that he would be moving up; the thrills and challenges of playing the iconic pop star on stage; his friendship with Frankie Valli; his early days; and so much more.
JBB: First of all, Michael, congratulations on taking over the Frankie Valli role on Broadway! How did you find out about the big news and what was your first reaction?
ML: Thank you! I heard that John Lloyd had given his notice and there was about maybe three weeks of not knowing who was taking over. And then, one day, I got called down to the stage management office during half hour. I thought, â€˜Oh Lord, here we go.â€™ I thought somebody was calling to say, â€˜Hey, you know, weâ€™re really sorry, but somebody else is cominâ€™ in.â€™
But, it was Des McAnuff on the line. I took the phone call in the stage managementâ€™s bathroom and closed the door for privacy. He said, â€˜Michael, youâ€™re taking over the role.â€™
So, I was so excited! Obviously, I wanted it to happen. I had been working so hard on the part, but you never know in this business. You never want to expect anything like that to happen.
JBB: Even though it was such exciting news, at first, did it seem unbelievable?
ML: Kind of a little disbelief. Itâ€™s been so long that Iâ€™ve been playing the part and as Joe Pesci, as well–I didnâ€™t know what to think. I had to take a moment and really take it in.
Des said he was very pleased to make the phone call. But, I had to be silent about it, because the official offer hadnâ€™t come from the producers yet.
So, of course, being quiet was the hardest thing, because everybody was buzzing around the theatre, talking about â€˜Whoâ€™s it going to be?â€™
Finally, I got the call about a week and a half later. So, it was a LONG week and a half.
JBB: Fortunately, because of your training as an actor, you could at least keep a straight face?
ML: (Laughs) Yeah, because it was great news, I felt like everybody would find out when they were supposed to find out. It at least took the pressure off of me, because I was feeling the same way everybody else in the company was feelingâ€”antsyâ€”â€˜Whatâ€™s going on, whatâ€™s going onâ€”itâ€™s happening soon, but nothingâ€™s been said.â€™
JBB: Even though you had been playing the matinee Frankie for quite some time, was it a major transition process to become, letâ€™s call it, the â€˜Primetimeâ€™ Frankie?
ML: You know, itâ€™s definitely been a lifestyle change. Before, I would only have to worry about my Tuesday nights and Friday nights, not doing anything, being quiet, and being a good boy (chuckles).
Now, my whole life has changed. I really have to focus on going home after the show, doing a certain regimen: taking a hot bath with Epsom Salts, drinking a lot of water, having a Gatorade, making sure Iâ€™m hydrated, not talking to people after the show, not going to bars after the show, no alcohol — I was never a big drinker before, so that wasnâ€™t a big deal. You have to make sure that youâ€™re just as good as you were the night before. Itâ€™s been a really good growing experience for me.
JBB Tech-Half: Do you feel like a franchise player?
ML: What do you mean?
JBB Tech-Half: The STAR.
ML: No, I still feel like a team player because everybody that is involved in the show is responsible for its success and the magic on the stage. Every single actorâ€”adds something. So, I really donâ€™t feel like the star.
Obviously, I have a lot to do in the show, and Iâ€™m living the dream as far as being a singer, dancer, actor who gets to really do it all. So, definitely, I have that aspect of it, but I am grateful that everybody in this show is such a great actor and great team player. We really are like a family.
JBB: The â€˜familyâ€™ is so obviousâ€”not just on stage, but in benefit appearances, TV appearances, or just seeing the cast hanging out together at the stage door.
ML: That definitely takes a lot of time. Especially with me and the other three guys. Weâ€™ve been through so much together and I really got to know the other three guys on a personal level outside of the actual building. And, theyâ€™re all such sweet guys; theyâ€™re talented; and two of them of are fathers. Bobby and Christian both had children during the run of the show. So, weâ€™ve all experienced things that families experience.
JBB: How do you transform yourself every day into the Frankie Valli role?
ML: Iâ€™ve always come from the acting standpoint that you have to live in the moment. So, every time I step onto that stage, itâ€™s a brand new moment. I canâ€™t repeat whatever I did yesterday. I have to really live in it as if itâ€™s happening right then and there. So, honestly, every scene is its own world. I donâ€™t think about the next scene after that, or the next scene after that. I literally am just living in it. So, anything you see is me coming into life; listening to whateverâ€™s happening with whatever the other actor is saying to me; really putting myself into the situation. I am Frankieâ€”how am I feeling when my daughter is telling me that sheâ€™s not coming home? Or, how worried do I feel when Iâ€™m talking to Lorraine about her? Itâ€™s just really trying to put myself, Michael, into this situation. If I was this father, if I was this performer on the road, how would I feel with this? So, thatâ€™s how I prepare.
JBB: Whatâ€™s the biggest challenge of playing Frankie Valli?
ML: The biggest challenge is staying focused and in the moment–reminding yourself that your are meant to be here; and just to relax and sing your heart out.
JBB: Weâ€™d like to know about your early days. When did you know you wanted to become involved in musical theatre?
ML: Well, my mom is a singer. So, when I was a child, instead of going out and playing outside with my two brothers, Iâ€™d be inside singing along with my mom at the piano.
She was in a band called â€œBrown Imageâ€ in the â€˜70s. I remember when I was about three years old, having one of the bandmateâ€™s mothers or grandmothers babysitting all the kids. I would sneak into the garage where they were playing and listen to my mom. She played the keyboards and sang lead vocals. I was just mesmerized–maybe by the community element of the fact that all these different pieces were coming together to create one sound, one beautiful song. Something about it just spoke to me as a kid and I never really let it go. My mom says that I was singing before I could talk.
I went to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a voice major, where I studied jazz, Gospel music, choral music, and stuff like that. And then, the English/Dance teacher was looking for boys to be in West Side Story. I had seen the movie, but I never thought I was a dancer. She said, (changing his voice to a hilarious imitation) â€˜Longoria, I need you to come to auditions and help me out here.â€™ So, I went and they cast me as Baby John. Something about that production made me open my eyes into a different world. Up to that point, I was just a singer, looking to record an album when I was older, I guess. When I performed in that, something sparked a curiosity about musical theatre. I was in all the school productions after that. Then, I was accepted to New York University Tisch School of the Arts on a scholarship. I came when I was 17 to New York, all alone, no family, no nothing.
JBB: Was it a bit of culture shock coming to New York from LA?
ML: Absolutely, absolutely! I was very sheltered in my childhood; I didnâ€™t get out much. When I got to New York, I definitely was very excited about how beautiful and crazy and different New York was from my home life. Since I didnâ€™t have anybody here, anything went. So, I was able to trial and error as a person, get to know who I was in the city, and with that, became who I am.
JBB: Would you say your mom and her bandmates were your biggest musical influences as a kid?
ML: Yes, definitely with the voice, and because I was singing a lot as a young kid, a lot of people took notice and got me into commercial work as a child. I did a lot of national commercials for McDonalds and M & Mâ€™s and products like that.
JBB: Wow, do you have them on Youtube?
ML: I donâ€™t have them on Youtube, but maybe I should really put them on Youtube. I have one or two. Iâ€™m about nine years old, itâ€™s hilarious, with big curly fro-ee hair, before gel was discovered (laughs)!
JBB: On your bio in the Jersey Boys Playbill, you thank Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli for their musical mentorship. Has Frankie Valli offered you advice during your run in Jersey Boys?
ML: Absolutely. A long time ago, Frankie listened to my EP, â€œUnder 1000 Shades of Blue.â€ I remember him coming backstage one day, I think this is before the matinee Frankie even happened.
I remember him saying, â€˜Youâ€™re a really good singer, man. I listened to your CD and I really like your voice. Youâ€™re a singer!’
Then, the next time I saw him, he talked to me about my music again; telling me what he thought about what direction I should go.
We slowly started to develop a rapport with each other. I would go to his concerts. One time, he invited usâ€”four guys from the showâ€”all on stage and we sang backup on one of the microphones.
We started talking on the phone here and there. They were very short conversations; heâ€™d be yelling at one of his kids, telling them to turn the Nintendo off (chuckles).
And, when I finally got the part, I remember him telling his manager, â€˜The kid finally got the part!â€™–making a joke about it.
He brought me up on stage again when he was in town recently during the strike. This time, I was there by myself and I thought, â€˜Okay, fine, weâ€™ll do what we did last time.â€™ Frankie then said, â€˜Ladies and gentlemen, weâ€™ve never done this before, but weâ€™re going to share this song.â€™ It was â€œLetâ€™s Hang On.â€ He literally said, â€˜Iâ€™ll take a verse; you take a verse; weâ€™ll go back and forth.â€™ So, of course, he takes the first verse, which is the verse that I sing in the show. The second verse, which I donâ€™t sing in the showâ€¦Iâ€™ve listened to the song several times, but I wasnâ€™t prepared for that. So, I started singing it, and I totally forgot the words. The audience went crazy; it was hilarious! It was one of those moments. I used the whole excuse that it was the strike. I told the audience, â€˜Oh, weâ€™re on strike. I need to brush up; I need to brush up’ (laughs).
Photo courtesy of Linda Lenzi at BroadwayWorld.com
JBB: Great story, Michael! It must have been incredible that he called you up to the stage and made you a part of his concert.
ML: I was very honored that he was so gracious about it.
JBB: Frankie sounds like heâ€™s so supportive of you. I realize that you are playing his life out there, but it looks like heâ€™s taking a genuine interest.
ML: He really does care about me and I care about him. I think he knows that Iâ€™ve always cared about his life and his story. I really admire everything that heâ€™s doneâ€”all of his music. Iâ€™ve really gotten to know him just by playing the part. Thereâ€™s a special connection there.
You know, maybe he sees a lot of himself in me. Definitely, he sees his little wavy hair (laughs).
JBB: Exactly, Michael, with your new pictures on your website, I thought, â€˜Heâ€™s got Frankieâ€™s look, even the hair!â€™
ML: And, the height, right? (laughs)
JBB Tech-Half: You know what, just when youâ€™re talking about Frankie Valli, you start to sound like him a little bit.
ML: Oh, yeah? You know, Iâ€™ve been saturated in Frankie Valli for so long; heâ€™s lived in my I-pod for the past two and a half years that Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™m influenced by him every day.
JBB: Considering you were born quite a while after The Four Seasonsâ€™ heyday, were you familiar with their music before Jersey Boys?
ML: You know, I didnâ€™t realize that I knew it, but I knew it. In rehearsals, I remember opening each page. I remember opening each new song and would think, â€˜I know this song! How did I know this song?â€™ Then, realizing that these guys did all these songs that I knew. So, I did know them, but I didnâ€™t realize that it was Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons that were singing those songs.
ML: The New York Lotto song was so fun to do with the three other guys; so was the Christmas song.
JBB: Your debut EP â€œUnder 1000 Shades of Blueâ€ is terrific! I especially love the title cut and â€œJill.â€ How did this EP come about and could you tell us about what inspired you to create it?
ML: I was a swing in Hairspray on Broadway. Since I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to be creative with the time when I was not on stage. So I picked up a guitar and started writing. The EP was originally an experiment and meant to sell to fans at gigs and send as a demo to industry. I’m writing new material for a full length CD, so I decided for the moment to stop reproducing and selling the EP. But you can still hear it on my website.
JBB: What about your Jersey Boys-related favoritesâ€”how about your favorite JB musical number & why?
ML: I love â€œBye, Bye Babyâ€…It might be my favorite Valli song, and itâ€™s one of the few numbers in the show where Iâ€™m not singing on the stage of a concert, but actually in the life of Valliâ€¦â€œFallen Angelâ€ is that way as well.
JBB: Favorite JB line and why?
ML: I think I will always hold dear the first time I spoke the line: â€˜Cause I told him your a fuckinâ€™ genius!â€™, because I said it to Daniel Reichard over 800 times on Broadway.
JB: Favorite JB scene and why?
ML: The church scene where Frankie first hears what his voice sounds like in a big space. I like that Frankie is so innocent and untainted by the future choices his talent will force him to make. I also like the picture that it makes when you sit in the audience.
JBB Tech Half: How would you compare being a Broadway star with a rock star? Has playing Frankie Valli given you any insight into the life of a rock star?
ML: Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s more fun to live the rock star life, but you canâ€™t live the rock star life when you play one in a Broadway show. Broadway stars have to really take care of themselves if they want to be at their best night after night.
JBB Tech Half: Is there one single thing that youâ€™d want readers to know about Michael Longoria that they may not already know?
ML: Just that Iâ€™ve worked really hard to get here and all because I believed, as a seventeen year old in California, that it was possible.
Thank you so much to Michael Longoria for taking the time for this wonderful and insightful interview! His perseverance and hard work over the years, in addition to his amazing talent are extraordinary (Sundayâ€™s show was spectacular, by the way)! We wish him all the best as he continues to thrill audiences as Frankie Valli, and we are looking forward to news on the progress of his future full length CD!