May 20, 2012

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Peter Gregus!

May 20th, 2012

Peter Gregus in his dressing room during his JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview.

It goes without saying that it’s always a joy to catch up with JERSEY BOYS Broadway’s “Bob Crewe,” Peter Gregus and last month, we had a marvelous opportunity to sit down with him backstage before his Sunday performance! Peter shared many reflections with us about M33, his recent directorial project at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the project’s future, what it has been like to be part of JB since the very early days at La Jolla Playhouse and how he continually works on keeping his characters fresh, and his role in the Jersey Boys family with his castmates and crew.

Jersey Boys Blog: Great seeing you, Peter! You were amazing as always yesterday as Bob Crewe and in all the other parts that you play! People were applauding and howling nonstop during your Crewe scenes! What have you heard from fans lately after their Broadway Jersey Boys experience?

Peter Gregus: Thank you so much! Just the other day, I met a young guy from LA who was 22 and an R&B singer. He said he had always been a singer and had never performed as an actor. He saw the show and said to me, “Oh My God, I so want to do this now….I want to do theater now. I don’t want to just sing anymore; I want to sing and act!” How cool is that?

The guy said that he expected to come to the theater and hear, “Some Enchanted Evening” (Peter’s rendition was flawless, btw)…and I told him, that’s not Broadway anymore. Across the street is Superstar, that’s a rock opera, American Idiot was progressive rock. There’s a place for every voice now, which makes it hard on the performer, because you have to master all those different styles…and, I don’t rock (chuckles)!

JBB Tech Half: Is it all because the audience now wants to hear the music that they grew up with– the Boomers, the Xers, and the Millennials?

PG: Well, in the ‘50’s and ‘60s, Broadway show tunes were in the Top Ten, songs like ‘Impossible Dream.’ Now, it has flipped in that we’re taking the music from the rock world, like the music of Green Day and The Four Seasons and putting it into the Broadway sound. It’s kind of a reversal of how the way things were back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s.

You have to make room for a new sound—without progress—you die!

JBB: The line of people yesterday, as we were waiting to come into the show, seemed like it went on for miles! Lots of guys hangin’ out with their wives—but they didn’t look all that thrilled waiting in line. And, of course, the guys ended up having the times of their lives, even before “Sherry” began yesterday!

PG: I was talking to a school group the other day and they asked me what was the coolest thing about the show. I told them that the coolest thing is seeing these 50-60-year-old guys, getting dragged in by their wives, then you see them jumpin’ around, dancin’, and singin’ and they’re 16 again. That’s exciting–bringing that new kind of audience–making something for the guys. It is a guys’ show! Sorry ladies…You have your Wicked, Mama Mia, and Mary Poppins, but the guys have Jersey Boys!

JBB: Okay, Peter, can I please stick with the guys?!

Peter: Are you a guy’s gal? (Chuckles)

JBB Tech Half: Don’t get her started, Peter…those ladies’ shows drive Susie to drink! (Laughs)

Peter: Have you guys seen any other Jersey Boys’ companies lately?

JBB: We were invited to press night at Jersey Boys Las Vegas at the Paris Theatre in March. It was an awesome night!! Brand new gorgeous theater and the cast was absolutely fresh and fantastic!

PG: Vegas is so hard vocally for them, with the dryness. I don’t know how Travis Cloer does it constantly. He’s amazing. I remember when he came to New York and I thought that he was the kind of singer who could be called at 6 in the morning and be told that he had to be on in an hour (snaps his fingers) and he could do it!

JBB Tech Half: Travis absolutely has one of the most beautiful voices!

PG: He’s got that kind of training and that natural ability to sing like that at any given point. He really has one of the most natural voices for this role that I’ve heard!

JBB: It was so great to interview you when you were directing M33! Congratulations on your big accomplishment! What have you taken from that experience and what comes next?

PG: It was such a breath of fresh air, in a way! I was so fortunate; they were so kind to let me out to do this. Watching Des [McAnuff] work when we were putting the show together inspired a lot of my thoughts about being a director, since he really is a master. He’s amazing to watch.

It was hard in the sense that when you’re working on something—my writing partner and I have been working on this for three years. It becomes so microscopic that you see every little wart and all the things that you think are bad. You have a hard time stepping back and seeing the big picture.

Since we had been writing it, and not really putting it up on its feet, this is the time that we had to step back and look at the whole piece. You have to train your eyes. I remember working with Tommy Tune once and he said that you need to always have ‘baby eyes’ as a director. You have to keep looking at it as if you’ve never seen it before, which is difficult. Adding actors and all kinds of design people into it, and being able to let them have their artistic voice, and still being in command of the ship. But you want everyone to bring something to the table, and that can take the play into a totally different way than you ever thought it would go. It was totally interesting and very fascinating.

I had a grand time! The show wasn’t perfect, but for a first outing, the reviews across the board said it has a lot of promise and the audience’s reaction was that it was a fascinating thing to watch. It wasn’t necessarily the most pleasant thing to watch, because it was an ugly event in American history. The Marathoners went on for about five months. By the end of the play, it had been four or five months, and the ones who are left were barely alive, so the play naturally has this kind of ugly side to it, but it has an optimistic ending—I’ll tell you that much.

JBB: Being a director sounds incredibly exciting, but at the same time, maybe a bit nerve wracking?

PG: It was exciting to see all of the stuff in your head happen. It never happens perfectly. That’s another lesson I’ve learned from a lot of directors that I’ve known. They’ve said you’ll never quite get exactly what you want in your head, so you have to be able to breathe and let that go. Sometimes, the stuff that doesn’t happen is replaced by something new that surprises you that’s better, different, or adds another element to the story. So, you have to kind of be open to what’s happening immediately in front of you rather than ‘I wish, I wish, I wish’…You have to really work with what’s physically in front of you.

It’s such a crazy and great feeling to look back and say, ‘Oh My God, we did this! We put this thing on its feet and they cheered and they laughed’…and I’m back in Jersey Boys!

JBB: It’s so incredible to hear your passion about what you do! Wish we could have been in Pittsburgh to see it!

PG: Well, keep your fingers crossed! We’re working on it. We took a three-camera video of it and we’re editing it. There are some theaters in New York and around the country that are interested in seeing that, and maybe we’ll get another shot at it at a different theater. We’re doing a lot of re-writes, which is naturally what you do, maybe five or six incarnations before it’s the one. We’re still working on it now. My writing partner is in Pittsburgh teaching at Carnegie Mellon. We write and ship it off to each other via email. I don’t know how people worked like this back in the snail mail days. But, we’re definitely in contact with some theaters in New York who have expressed an interest in seeing the piece, so we have a little bit of a foot in the door. With any luck, you’ll be able to see it on a great stage soon (laughs)!

JBB Tech Half: After you finish editing and you have a trailer, send it to us and we’d love to post it!

PG: We’re going to make what we call a ‘sizzle reel,’ like the b-roll that they have for Jersey Boys, then we will have the full-length version that we’ll send to the theaters. But, we’ll definitely have a sizzle reel for you guys.

JBB Tech Half: Another JBB Exclusive! (Peter chuckles)

PG: It just filled me up to do another 20 years of Jersey Boys! It gives me the opportunity to release my brain, look at things from a new perspective, and a new life here and say, ‘Oh, this is a great job! I love it here!’

JBB Tech Half: In that respect, you touched upon it a little bit. The theater and cinema are different than other arts. You have all these different talents that you have to meld them together into a cohesive unit. That can’t be easy with egos and artistic differences?!

PG: The hard part is that everyone has to understand is that at the end of the day, with all that creativity that’s going around, there’s got to be one voice that’s going to unify all that. So, at the end of the day, it’s the director’s job to say, ‘That’s a great idea, but we can’t incorporate that just yet’ or to say ‘No’—and it’s hard, because you don’t want to thwart anyone’s creativity, but you’re responsible for the big picture.

JBB Tech Half: So, you started with Jersey Boys way back at La Jolla Playhouse nearly eight years ago! From our understanding of theater, it’s a family kind of thing. Since you’ve been with the company the longest, is your role the patriarch of this family?

PG: It’s very much so a family. I would say here that Mark Lotito and I are both the grandpas, or the mama and the papa of the family. He’s the papa and I’m the mama (chuckles), definitely of the company, and Sara [Schmidt] is the keeper of the keys. She remembers every date, everything that happened, who came into the company, who left the company. She remembers everything (snaps his fingers)…this one left on this date, he came in on this date. She’s our archivist.

It’s such a lovely company. It’s always been that way, but it has developed into this very mature company with a lot of babies flying around, bigger responsibilities, etc. In a show with a bigger chorus, you have younger people, and at that point in their lives, they don’t have mortgages or kids yet, so, there’s a little looser feel. Here, people have a little bit bigger responsibilities, so we tend to be a little less partying and a little more serious and a little more forgiving. It’s a very different company than some of the other shows that I’ve been in. It’s lovely and a very calm theater with no crazy in the building. Right now, it’s at a very nice, quiet place. We all love coming to work, we enjoy each other’s company, we work very hard together, and we all enjoy doing the show together. It’s really this fun little challenge to be on stage with each other, egging each other on and encouraging each other.

JBB: It was SO obvious yesterday on stage! It was better than ever!!

PG: It’s cookin’! Andy [Karl] came in and Quinn [VanAntwerp] came in. Quinn had already done the show already, but Andy came in cold. When Andy came in the fall, he was getting a hold of it, then I went away for two moths. When I came back in March, he was really cookin’ (snapped his fingers). His show had solidified so beautifully. It was like Wow! It wasn’t a whole different thing, but he really had crystallized into his ‘Tommy.’ He’s great to watch and he’s a lot of fun back stage!

JBB: Since you said that you and Mark are mama and papa of the company, are you mentors and do you keep an eye on the newer and younger cast members?

PG: We keep an eye on them and give them advice when somebody has an audition and they want to read the audition script and help them go through it. Mark does that a lot since he’s done a million television shows, so he knows what they’re looking for. I’m working with Russell [Fischer] on his cabaret. We try to be available for fatherly advice (chuckles) and there’s a lot of sympathy when somebody’s been up for two days when their kid had the flu. All these things that are external from the show, but come into the show because of the lives we lead.

My mother was in the hospital and she’s fine now, but I had to leave on quick notice for a couple days, and everyone was so concerned, calling and texting, ‘How’s your mom?’ ‘How’d the surgery go?’ So, there’s this really beautiful, built-in support group, just out of nature.

We see each other every day, more than we see each other’s families sometimes. We’re guaranteed to see each other every day. Whereas my partner gets up and goes to work in the morning, I’ll see him for 15 minutes and I see him for 15 minutes when I get home at night. I see these people three hours each night. Sometimes I see them more than I see my own family, so there’s this very genuine concern for each other that’s really a lovely thing you can count on. Everyone—the stagehands, the stage managers, all the departments—it’s a lovely group of people to work with. Some people do cancer runs, some of their kids are selling Girl Scout cookies—so we support each other like a family with that kind of stuff, too.

JBB: You guys are doing a bunch of things outside of the show, aren’t you?

PG: Our spring activities are kicking in! We’re all doing a sketch for the Easter Bonnet Competition next week that Andy Karl has spearheaded. He has written a wonderful parody of The Hunger Games, in which a thousand years from now, when Jersey Boys is still running, and the only way you can get into the cast is that you not only have to sing, dance, and act, but you have to protect yourself and be able to fight, like in The Hunger Games. Each of the auditioners are different characters—it’s so much fun!

I’m choreographing one number for Broadway Bares this year—not the whole show! I think Russell and Taylor {Sternberg] are participating again, so that will be fun.

JBB Tech Half: What about the Jersey Boys movie? Have you heard any news about it?

PG: I just read that John Logan has been brought on to write it! God, I’d love be a part of it! I’ll sit in the back of the bar! But, you know what I really want to do? I want to do the car scene! If there’s a car scene, I want to do it; that’s all I want!

You guys put up the poll, right? Who do you want to play Crewe? They all said Neil Patrick Harris, which insulted me to no extent (massive laughter)! He’s perfect!

JBB: You were really high up there in the poll, Peter!

PG: Neil Patrick Harris is the perfect choice to play Crewe!

JBB: You really think so? We think YOU’RE the one!

PG: (Chuckles) They never hire stage actors to do that film stuff, but it would be great to be part of it in some way!

JBB Tech Half: The Broadway cast members always do great in our polls, but they are two different businesses, aren’t they?

PG: It’s really interesting, but the fortunate thing about Jersey Boys is that they didn’t build it on stars. They built it on the music and The Four Seasons’ story—those two things are the stars! That was a really smart move out right of the gate, because you’re not depending on who’s in it next to sell tickets—it’s selling itself.

JBB: So, you have been with Jersey Boys since the very beginning in La Jolla, but each and every time we see you, your Crewe is so fresh and seems a little different. How do you keep it so fresh and how has that character evolved after all these years?

PG: You know what changes? Every time a new cast member comes in, especially if when it’s a Gaudio replacement! Most of my scenes as Crewe are with him. When a new person comes in, some actors do things exactly the way they’ve always done it, and the new actor has to conform to their performance. I don’t want them to conform; I want to conform to their performance, because that will change me—and give me new things to do. You just have to be very studious and listen to the new actor and understand where he’s coming from.

There are certain things that are inherent. You have to do ‘met-a-phor,’ because Des likes it and you have to pat your hair down after you scream, because Des likes it. So, there are certain things that you have to do.

But, all in all, a new relationship is just that, and you build on that new person. So, when Andy [Karl] came in…there are some Tommys who are more serious and some who are more jokey—and same with the Gaudios. I tend to try to adapt to their performance, rather than try to make them adapt to mine. That makes it new and one of the things that helps keep me fresh.

JBB: That’s really interesting, because you seemed to have different nuances with Quinn that I really hadn’t seen on stage with your other Gaudios in the past!

PG: All of the guys were very different, such as Sebastian was much more mature out of the gate than Daniel was, but Quinn looks like he’s twelve. Immediately, he looks like a baby. They all have different qualities to them and I have to adjust to that.

I also have to listen to the audience a little bit and their reaction, and ride that a little bit, too. The audience is always part of the performance. Any actor who says, ‘I don’t listen to the audience’ is a LIAR…a LIAR (chuckles)! You’re doing it for them and you’re including them in the performance. You want to surprise them, you want to make them laugh, and you want to take them on this little journey. So you have to listen to them and know what kind of audience it is every night and what they’re reacting to. A big part of it is working with the audience–rather than thinking they’re this big monolith of one person. They’re individuals and I always know that somebody out there, no matter how quiet they are that night, somebody out there is getting it—at least there’s one person out there getting it. But for the most part, everybody gets it (laughs)!

JBB: Wow, I love that you’re sharing so many insights with us about your journey!

PG: Ahhh, when you do something long enough, you really think about it!!


  1. Thanks for another great interview, Susie and Dale! Peter is one of my very favorite JB cast members; super talented, kind, and wickedly funny.Look forward to seeing his show on Broadway, at some future time.

    Comment by Pamela — May 20, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  2. I agree with Pamela; Peter is so talented and so funny. I often wonder what instructions the actors get from the director and what they do on their own or take away from other actors. Was interesting to know that the hair pat-down is in every performance because “Des likes it”!

    Got a laugh out of Peter’s saying “Quinn looks like he’s twelve”. Just a week ago, I was showing my elderly cousin a pic Quinn and I took at the stage door (where he had to bend down about three feet so we could both fit into the frame), and without missing a beat, in her squeaking voice, she exclaimed, “OMG, he’s a baby!!”

    As always, great article, Susie and Dale!

    Comment by Howard — May 23, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

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