May 9, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Mike Backes and Colin Trahan

May 9th, 2009

Mike Backes and Colin Trahan
Jersey Boys Vegas cast members Colin Trahan and Mike Backes

Tech Half prologue: Experts tell us, “It’s not IF your hard drive will fail, but WHEN.” That’s what happened to the Blog Half, but after some digging, cussing and consultation with Gyp, we were able to restore this interview from Colin and Mike in October.
Before one of their Sunday shows in October, we had an incredible time interviewing Vegas Jersey Boys cast members Mike Backes and Colin Trahan! Mike and Colin shared some marvelous stories about how they became interested in theatre; the Jersey Boys audition process; their time in San Francisco; and their amazing experiences as swings and understudies in the Vegas Jersey Boys cast!

JBB: How’s life in Vegas going for you guys?

Mike Backes: I like life in Vegas!

Colin Trahan: Life in Vegas is dry! As soon as we showed up, we had to pick up our ChapStick and get in the habit of three times as much water before we could function properly…

MB: And during the show, too…

CT: It’s highly developed, which is a nice comfortable change from New York, where we’re used to a really packed subway, rather than our own car with air conditioning. It’s very comfortable here, but we all miss New York tremendously!

JBB: How did you guys get started in show biz?

CT: Sometime in middle school, I think my parents recognized that I was weird (chuckled)….and my brothers, being cool, said, ‘Mom, Dad, the weird kids go to the speech team’ and so, they told me to try out for the speech team, and I have not stopped doing plays and theatre since, ‘cause the speech team did all the shows.

So, from there, I went to college for theatre. At first, I thought I might do Communications or something, but then I thought, ‘No, I can’t do anything else in life…’ Then, I hopped on to New York just after I graduated.

JBB: Where’d you grow up?

CT: I grew up in New Orleans.

JBB Tech Half: You pretty much knew in middle school, ‘Hey, I wanna be an actor…’?

CT: Yeah, absolutely! Definitely wanted to be in front of people…a big show off! (chuckled)….And you, Mikey?

MB: I was in choral program in elementary school, and my chorus teacher– because I was a big ham, and I was always singing in front of people–said that I needed to audition for the school play. My first show was A Cause for Mrs. Claus and I was Santa…and I got the bug. It was a blast!

From there, I did everything—whether it was chorus or theatre, I was always involved in some aspect in elementary and middle school. In high school is where I became serious about it. I also went to college for theatre.

JBB: Where did you grow up?

MB: I grew up in White Plains, New York; it’s about 40 minutes away from the city.

JBB: Wow! It’s so great that you guys knew what you wanted to do so early! We’re still wondering what we want to do!

CT: We’re still wondering sometimes, too….a little, I think (laughter).

JBB: What made you guys audition for Jersey Boys? Or, did your agent say, ‘You’d be great for this role!’ How did it all come about?

CT: For me, I had just gotten back to the city from a tour, and I wanted to be in the union, so I was only going to auditions for big stuff. My girlfriend was forcing me to go to an audition for Spamalot, ‘cause I like to be funny. There’s a long story behind it, but to make a long story short, I ended up just barely squeezing into an audition because they didn’t have to see me, because I wasn’t a part of the union.

So, I barely squeezed into an audition for Spamalot, just before lunch, and Merri Sugarman happened to be casting both shows. So, I got a call from Merri and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get a callback for Spamalot,’ and she said, ‘Come in for Jersey Boys.’ I said ‘Sure’ and I hung up and I laughed at her, ‘cause I knew I would never get into Jersey Boys. So, I said, sure, you can send me the script, but I’m never going to get into Jersey Boys! (more laughing)

JBB: Why did you think you’d never get into Jersey Boys? You seem prefect for the show!

CT: I had done more character-funny stuff before this. When I saw the show and I thought it was so amazing. I didn’t think I’d be able to get in it. I just couldn’t believe it when I got the call.

JBB: How about your story, Mike?

MB: I saw the show on Broadway and fell in love with it. My parents had told me about it, but I didn’t know really much about it till I went to go see it. Everybody was saying, ‘You’re right for this; you’re right for this…’

There’s not a lot out there for the straight musical theatre guy. When I saw it, I was like, ‘WOW!” I went in for in on an open call; I don’t have an agent.

CT: I don’t have an agent, either…

MB: I went to an open call. They liked me; they liked my vibe. They thought I was a little too young, so over a period of time, they kept on having me come back in and out. I was doing a show in Chicago, and they had me come again. I knew they liked me for the show, so it was really a matter of finding the right company. I’m actually really glad I’m in this company; these guys are really great!

CT: Yeah! Fantastic company! And they keep sending us on to different companies; sending new folks in…

JBB: We’ve heard from so many Jersey Boys companies that as cast members, you become like a family. Do you guys feel like brothers doing this gig every day?

CT & MB: Absolutely….definitely…

CT: Especially as swings, we’ve been in the trenches together…the rehearsals…I mean, we’ve been together a year…I’ve seen Mikey more in the last year than I’ve seen my family. (chuckled)

MB: It’s always exciting, too, especially, initially, when we first got to go on, it was so exciting and such a big deal.

JBB: We’ve interviewed quite a few swings. To me, being a swing seems like a tough gig…Sometimes you’ll know 20 minutes before that you’ll be going on for Gyp or whomever, right?

MB: The other day, it was what, 15 minutes till places?

JBB: Who’d you go on for?

CT: For Norm, that night. I am assistant dance captain, and I was running around giving notes. He looked at me and said, ‘We don’t know if he’s going to be in, so I’ll tell you in five minutes. If he’s not here in five minutes, you’re on!’

I love it! It’s exciting, and it’s much more fun right now, than it was in the beginning, because we’ve worked so hard at it that we know our stuff. So now it’s just an adrenalin rush.

MB: So if you get called now, you’re not freakin’ out…you still do go over everything…

CT: So, now it’s just enjoyable. This is my first time swinging and we’re coming up on a year since we began rehearsals. At this point, if we were in any roles steadily, we’d be possibly a little bored.

JBB: Really, a little bored?

CT: You find ways to get excited when you go out there, because you want to keep your job (chuckled) and be good for the audience, but at this point, regular cast are looking for things to make them excited, and it’s a little more difficult. But, for us, it’s always exciting.

MB: Yeah, you never know who you’re going to go on for.

JBB Tech-Half: I was just thinking as I was driving over here, you guys have to have the entire script memorized, front and back, every single player, and every single line?

CT: After rehearsals, when we were in San Francisco, and we had just gotten started, some people would go out to the bar or whatever, and the swings—we’d go sit in our apartment–scripts open and just drill, drill, drill.

MB: I had a couple of beers, too….(laughed)

CT: But, you know, actors will say anything’s a difficult gig. We’re not doing this show in Baghdad….(laughed)….We still sit backstage in comfy chairs and we’re on our laptops. Also, the cast being such a wonderful supportive cast in Vegas, you get a lot of help and support when you go on. A lot of people excited to have you go on; they’re excited for the difference in the show. In those ways, it’s actually not very difficult at all.

JBB: So, Mike, you’re the understudy for Bob Gaudio and Tommy DeVito, and Colin, you’re the understudy for Nick Massi. What are your challenges as understudies?

MB: I’ve yet to ever do Tommy. Actually, it’s funny, because these guys know it–Tommy is the role I really want to go on for. Bob has been the role I’ve been going on more steadily. It’s been good. I’ve gotten to see another side of me; he’s the softer side. It’s been challenging, definitely, to do it. It’s also been a lot of fun and it’s very rewarding. It’s a great, great character.

JBB: I can’t wait to see you sing “Cry For Me”!

MB: Awwwww….

CT: When you go on as a Season, a non-Frankie Season, the three that we cover…You would think maybe more pressure. You certainly are looked at and you do have the more acting moments. But really, the more difficult thing for us to do is to go on for those ensemble members who have much more costumes to change into…

MB: You need to know where everything is going on onstage. All the backstage crap, like where you’re going to be changing into the costumes.

CT: But we have a wonderful wardrobe department! We get a lot of credit for going on successfully, but we do what we’re supposed to do on stage, and everybody sees that. But when we run back, we’re just like this…and the wardrobe people are waving and pointing and telling us how much time we have. So, they’re the unnamed swings; they’re the other half of my swing accomplishments.

JBB: We’ve heard stories from the New York dresser. It’s like you have to go from one outfit to another in what, 15 seconds?

CT: Everybody has their quick changes…if your zipper doesn’t go down in one swipe, you’re a second late on stage. But that image—getting into things quickly—reminds me of an image I’ll never forget in Jersey Boys when Mr. Bergen slipped on stage and had to leave the show. It was Mike’s first time on for Bob Gaudio and he went on in the middle of “Sherry.”

All of us swings were on our way to find Mike. And he’s standing still with like a tornado of people around him. Sound is putting the mic in, people are throwing costumes on him, someone is combing his hair, and he’s just standing still, and at that point, he was only speaking in Bob lines. (laughed)

So, everyone is saying, ‘Mike, do you know where we are? Are you cool? Do you need anything?’ And he’s saying, ‘So now I’m a one hit wonder all over again.’

He went on and it really happened to be a really quirky line for him to go out and say for the first time. He goes out, and the audience realizes it’s crazy and he steps up and the first line he says, ‘So now I’m a one hit wonder all over again’….from a different person–the audience loved it.

MB: They were great…it was a great night.

JBB: People on the Jersey Boys Blog Forum reported on that evening like nobody’s business! Everyone said what a great job you did playing Bob that night!

MB: Awww, thanks! Erich was literally lying on the side of the stage with this brace, and I was like, ‘Are you okay?’ They’re telling me, “You gotta go on!’

CB: It was nuts! A crazy night!

JBB Tech Half: What about your favorites—lines, scenes, musical numbers?

MB: I gotta think about that…

CT: You know, I was auditioning for a swing, and this has been an amazing experience, but ever since I got the first sides for the show for my first callback, I think that every line that Nick Massi says is my favorite line. I love his quiet and his solitude in the first act, and in the end, I love when he goes crazy.

The one that always gets me, and we know from our dramaturgy that it’s not necessarily, automatically true; it may be a concoction….but when he says his own kids thought he was their uncle; that always kind of gets me.

MB: Now that I’ve gone on for Bob so much, I think the speech at the end of Act One…about the Seasons and the Beatles–it’s kind of the heart of the play. When I first read that, I thought that was good stuff.

For Tommy, I really love the ‘Everybody remembers it how they need to’ line.

CT: That’s a great line!

MB: Because it is true. Everybody has their own side, but he really sticks to his guns and he believes that he did the right thing. You always have that moment in life. Everybody remembers it how they need to, but this is what I did; this is how I’m going to remember it whether you like it or not. So, I like that one.

CT: As far as favorite songs, I don’t know if “Beggin’” is my favorite song in the show, but I think the placement of Beggin’…

MB: Just that whole section when they’re walking across…

CT: To have them sing that, they’re in a place they don’t want to be in. Theatrically, it’s such a humiliation for a bunch of very strong personalities to go through. I think it’s a very dramatic awesome thing to see or do.

MB: Favorite song for me? Going to have to go for “Cry for Me.”

CT: It all seems to come together with “Cry for Me.”

JBB: Back to your Nick, Colin, do you find anything particularly challenging in playing Nick?

CT: All of it, because we’ve had to work so hard on these characters with the assistant directors. You know, I don’t mind saying out loud; they wanted to see a second or third try. They were interested in me changing some things. I’m an extravert and Nick’s an introvert…So, trying to make him a calmer, quiet Nick.

But it’s not hard at all for me to do the anger (massive laughter) in the second act. The explosion of Nick is not difficult for me; it’s the containment leading up to it that I find most challenging.

JBB: You guys are truly a blast to interview! How about the ever-famous question: What have you discovered about yourselves before you became a member of the Jersey Boys company?

CT: Ooooh…! Can I meditate on that? I think I need to pray…ooooh (laughter)

I never thought I could do a swing job; I never thought I could do any of the last minute pressure. We’ve worked a lot; we’ve had a lot of patience and put a lot of work in.

MB: We’ve rolled wit the punches.

CT: I’m learning guitar, I’m learning bass. Every show teaches you a lot about yourself…and Mikey’s learned how to drive!

MB: Yeah, I’ve gotten my license! I think I’ve grown up a lot throughout this show. These guys will tell you, in San Francisco, I was Mr. Party Man…Now, because you always have to be on your game, as far as if you are going on or not. Also, playing the Bob role; he’s such a serious guy—so, I’ve kind of put that aside and just been like, ‘Alright, it’s time to become a man.’ The show has really done that for me; it’s been a really good thing.

CT: Mikey and I come from the area of smaller companies; we both toured a lot around the country with shows that have been prominent for decades, or at least for a few years. This is both of our first experiences with press people and that kind of thing. It’s a HUGE hit! I’ve never said the name of a show I was in and had people go, ‘Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ before.

It’s not that it’s addictive; it’s not something I need in my life, but we love the glitter of being in Jersey Boys!

JBB: Any last thoughts or stories you guys would like to share with the Jersey Boys Blog readers?

MB: We have SO many stories! (laughed)

CT: Well, here’s something for the bloggers. This company was put up in a little less time— rehearsal was a little more compressed and we had a little less space. Then, we went away to San Francisco and that was strange. Then, we came here and we had a new show. We had to tech it in San Francisco and we had to tech it here. We enjoyed it, but it was a very tense process.

The night of our first preview, we were invited to your wonderful fan/cast party that was thrown by Irene and Buz Eizen. It really, really meant a lot to us! We kind of needed it!

Thank you so much to Mike Backes and Colin Trahan for taking the time for such a fun interview! It was truly a wonderful treat to interview Mike and Colin together and to see their humor, camaraderie, and support of each other as they continue their journey as castmates in Jersey Boys!


  1. Another fantastic interview! I love finding out more about Jersey Boys cast members and their road to the hit show. Colin and Mike seem like really fun guys to chat with!

    Comment by Jess — May 9, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  2. I love them! I saw Mike as Bob (and he was great!) but I had no idea he hasn’t gone on as Tommy yet. Aw.

    Comment by Leanna — May 10, 2009 @ 12:08 am

  3. This was a really great interview. I’ve seen the Vegas show a few times, but haven’t see Colin as “Nick” or Mike as “Bob”, but would love to see them in these roles.

    Comment by Terry — May 10, 2009 @ 10:44 am

  4. Colin is exceptional as “Norm Waxman.”

    Comment by Gary — May 10, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  5. Newsflash: Mike Backes HAS gotten to go on as Tommy since this interview was done. Yay Mike!

    Comment by Leanna — May 10, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  6. You are awesome and i know you will get far i am so proud of you you are the best cousin ever!

    Comment by Mercy — October 15, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

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