December 15, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with the Broadway Jersey Girls—Bridget Berger, Heather Ferguson, Katie O’Toole, and Sara Schmidt!

December 15th, 2009

Our first evening in New York back in October couldn’t have started out on a higher note–a JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview with all four JERSEY GIRLS in their dressing room before their Thursday evening performance on October 22! It was fantastic to catch up with Original Broadway cast members Heather Ferguson (Lorraine and others) and Sara Schmidt (Francine and others), and to meet the two newest Jersey Girls, Bridget Berger (Mary and others), who has been with the show since March 2008 and Kate O’Toole, who has been a swing cast member since June 2008.

Along with chatting about the amazing time they are still having as they perform in JERSEY BOYS and their upcoming projects, Bridget, Heather, Katie, and Sara shared some interesting tidbits and surprising stories about each other!

JBB: So, Katie and Bridget, it’s great to meet you both! How about if you guys start by telling us about how you became part of JERSEY BOYS Broadway cast?

Katie O’Toole: Sure. Well, I’m actually originally from a small town in northern New Jersey. I absolutely love this show—it’s a lot of fun! I saw it in Vegas a couple of months before I got the job and I found out how familiar I was with their songs and I found the story incredibly interesting! I got really lucky.

I originally auditioned for it in Las Vegas in May 2007 and I didn’t know that much about the show, but as I learned about it, I just fell in love with it–being a true Jersey girl (laughs)! I was thrilled, just THRILLED to be in the New York company, since it’s close to my family.

JBB: How about your story, Bridget?

Bridget Berger: Well, I was the first female replacement, which allowed me the opportunity to perform with most of the original company…which was an honor, but also very intimidating. They weren’t intimidating (motioning to her castmates)– they welcomed me! But coming into a company that had experienced so much together-rehearsals, opening night, the Tonys, the album! You don’t want to break up that community.

And…to replace Jen Naimo! She set the bar extremely high. Thankfully, she reassured me and said, ‘Do your own thing; don’t try to do it like me.’ I needed to hear that!

JBB: So, Jen sounded like a great coach!

Bridget: She has such positive energy and warmth. You never know in this business. Women can be tricky.

JBB: Since you didn’t really know the show and hadn’t seen it before, what made you audition? Did someone say, ‘Hey, you’d be perfect in Jersey Boys?’

Bridget: I auditioned because I needed a job! And, yes, Bobby Spencer did say I was perfect for Mary…and I never saw the show until I was in it.

Honestly, I kind of fell in love with Mary once I read the first scene. On the outside, she’s this sassy ball-buster who takes every guy down with such confidence. On the inside, she’s a little girl whose dreams have been crushed. I’m challenged daily by this character.

This job fell from the sky. It really did. It had been four months since I’d had my fourth audition for Jersey Boys and I didn’t think Jen was ever leaving. I got a call to sing the next day for Ron Melrose. After a minute of singing, he picked up his phone right in front of me and called the casting office! I started a few days later. Since I was in Curtains at the time, I had to do double-duty for three weeks-rehearsed during the day for JB, and performed at Curtains at night….the bags under my eyes were very attractive ;)

JBB: You are in Farm Girl in New York, too, aren’t you?

Bridget: Yes! But I still haven’t seen it, because I don’t like watching myself on camera (chuckles).

Heather Ferguson: I was in rehearsals when she was learning it, too, because I was swing at the time. I heard her name and I texted Sara, ‘Some girl named Bridget Berger is coming in.’

She texted me back, ‘She is AMAZING. I love her; she’s great!’

I was like, ‘Okay, good, but we’ll see….’ (chuckles from Bridget)

She came and rehearsed, and seriously, the second that I met her, I was like, ‘She’s cool!’ I think I even said, ‘You’re really cool!’ (more chuckles from Bridget)

She was so real and normal and natural, which is hard to find in this business. I was so relieved that we got someone who is so amazing!

Bridget: It’s been a blessing. And in this room, I’m sure you can tell, it’s the size of a closet. So, we all really have to get along.

JBB: So, Heather and Sara, four years ago at this time, you guys were in previews with Jersey Boys, getting ready for opening night. What are your thoughts about the last four years with the show?

Sara Schmidt: Four amazing years! We opened November 6, 2005. I don’t think we ever thought four years ago that we’d have seven companies. Sure, the Tony, all the praise, and all the television performances, but still, at the heart of everything is still how amazing the show and how special we all feel to be a part of it.

What is most special is still being able to do the show every night. Our crew really hasn’t changed at all and we still have five original cast members [Peter Gregus, Mark Lotito, Dominic Nolfi, Heather Ferguson, and Sara] that are a part of it. Although we’ve lost really special people, every single person that has come in and out of this company has made it different and more fun. Each and every day is more fun than the last. It’s really a great atmosphere and everybody loves coming to work. There’s just no negativity—it’s a happy and fun place to be, because we’re doing something that’s great and well-respected, and we still sell out. That’s what I have to say after being here four years.

JBB: How about you, Heather?

Heather: Everything she said (laughs)!

I would say for me, I got to see how special it was, because I got to watch it, being a swing. When it was even in previews, I knew how special it was, just being able to watch it every night. It’s been really cool for it to get all the accolades that it deserves.

I’ve had a lot of fun with it, then taking over the role, last…when was it? Last June, or May, I can’t remember (chuckles).

Sara: Last May!

Heather: It’s still the same fun feeling—either being on stage or backstage. It’s the same thrill, because I either get to watch it or be a part of it. Either way, I just love the show.

JBB: Was it a huge difference going from swing to playing Lorraine?

Heather: The hardest part was actually forcing myself to forget the other parts. Because as swing, you have to always have those other parts in your back pocket. So, to let those go was really hard for me, because I missed playing Francine and Mary, and forcing myself to be able to concentrate on one. It’s been a lot of fun, but it was kind of hard at first.

Sara: Is there one part that you had more fun playing?

JBB: Great question (chuckles)!

Heather: Well, Sara…(laughs) I did like all three for different reasons. I loved Lorraine, and when the part was coming up to fill in when Erica [Piccininni] was leaving, I really wanted it, because I loved playing Lorraine. That was always really fun for me because of the scene work and some funny lines as “others.” But then, Francine challenged me in a good way, because in “Boyfriend’s Back,” you have to belt and jump up and down like crazy (laughs) and Mary was challenging, too—to play someone that I don’t usually play—a hard, rough kind of gal (chuckles). Lorraine just fit and it was a lot of fun to play her, so I’m really grateful that I got that opportunity.

JBB Tech Half: So you have two newbee cast members, Bridget and Katie, and the veterans, Heather and Sara. What is the role of the veteran and the newbee in the assimilation process of someone new coming into the show? What are the responsibilities and duties of each position?

JBB: Yikes! He’s giving you guys one of those long-winded, nerdy white guy questions! (Laughter from the Jersey Girls)

JBB Tech Half: Hey, you told me to ask them something interesting (chuckles)!

Sara: I would say that the veterans have to keep mouths quiet and let the newbees do whatever they want to do.

Bridget: Except–that I always look to the veterans whenever I’m starting a new show to tell me, ‘Don’t trip there…whenever you pick this up, watch out.’ We have these tracks in the stage and our heels always get caught in them. So, advice is always welcomed.

Sara: Helpful hints, like if you’ve seen Jennifer or somebody go to the bathroom, you say, ‘This is when you can get a drink of water. This is when you have five minutes to run upstairs and check your text messages’ (massive laughs).

Bridget: In the second act, for the first year, I would depend on Sara to know when to leave the dressing room for our entrance, because I didn’t know the music cue yet.

JBB Tech Half: Is it really the director’s and the stage manager’s job with the new person? Do they come in particularly for the new person?

Heather: They give you the framework and then you pretty much interpret what that is, in your own way as an actor. I think it’s so exciting as the veterans when someone new comes in and interprets that framework totally different. It’s so exciting for us, because it makes our show different and it makes us stay on our toes. It makes for a much more exciting show, because it’s something different than we’ve had for the last couple of years.

JBB: So Katie, when you began as a swing, what was it like? Did you watch the show nonstop at first?

Katie: I had never been a swing before, so I was definitely a little nervous coming in, but I remember…(I can flash back)… meeting the girls in the dressing room. You weren’t here (to Bridget), you were downstairs getting your wig on (chuckles). Anyway, they were so welcoming and I remember Sara saying, ‘If you need anything, just let us know!’

And I did. I had to ask the girls choreography questions and little things like, ‘When you grab the chair, do you do this…?’ They were SO, SO helpful!

I must have watched the show four or five times a week for the first six months that I was here. It took me a while to get to the point where I felt comfortable enough that if I got called on my bus ride in saying, ‘Okay, you’re this person tonight, or you’re that person…’ that I could just switch to that role. I watched the show from the front and also watched their backstage patterns, which is very important. You don’t want to get run over by another cast member trying to get to the other side of the stage. They were all extremely helpful to me. I had a lot to learn! (chuckles).

JBB Tech Half: So is the veteran’s role just physical? Such as where to be and how to avoid making a mistake?

Sara: It’s really our business just to be nice and to be as welcoming as possible, so that the newbees feel as comfortable as they can be to come in and do their best work. It’s scary to come in as a replacement.

JBB: I have always wondered about how tough it might be for a replacement.

Bridget: You normally learn the show in a few days. The hard part comes when you have your put-in rehearsal, your dress rehearsal. You’re in costume, while everyone else is in their sweatpants. It’s the first time everyone sees you perform……it’s TERRIFYING! On top of that, my eye was scratched at my put-in, so everything was a blur. Halfway through, Peter Gregus said, “RELAX!” I wanted to smack him! (chuckles)

JBB: It was so great seeing coverage of the Jersey Girls’ performance on “Broadway on Broadway” last month! Do you (either solo or as a group) have any other projects or appearances coming up?

Bridget: As far as ‘The Jersey Girls,’ we will be singing the National Anthem at The Westminster Dog Show on February 15, 2010.

Sara: On November 4, I’ll be performing in Night of 1,000 Luisas with other performers who have played Luisa in The Fantasticks.

JBB: We thought it might be fun if each of you takes a turn and tells us something surprising about one of your other Jersey Girls castmates that we may not know. Who wants to go first?

Sara: I have one: Heather is literally finishing college in this room! In between every show, she’s studying and doing her homework and has passed two courses already. She has two more to go. So, she’s graduating college pretty soon!

Bridget: Katie just graduated! Sara’s in charge of all this…she’s the head sorority sister.

Sara: No, I don’t want to be a sorority sister (laughs)!

Katie: Sara is the one who has pushed me. I hadn’t graduated; I left school six and a half years ago with just a semester left to go. This one over here (Sara) said, ‘You have to finish! You have to finish!’ And, I’m so glad she did. I finished this summer and I’m very, very grateful for everyone’s support.

JBB: Congratulations! Had we known this, we would have brought you guys champagne instead of chocolates!

Any other secrets about Sara?

Katie: Sara is the go-to girl. She knows everybody and she’s the etiquette girl. She’s brilliant!

Bridget: Sara’s a HAWK. If anything falls on the set, if there’s a crazy person in the audience, or if there’s a celebrity, Sara is the first to know. There was one time during the opening number, I suddenly felt this claw! I look over and Sara is mouthing, ‘OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!’ It was the Beckhams, their kids, and Tom Cruise…she couldn’t see straight!

Sara: Tom Cruise was the first person to stand in the audience and he sent us cupcakes after the show.

Katie: I wasn’t on that night and I was acting like a little child peeking through the curtain, seeing this man who was the most enthusiastic audience member I have even seen. As soon as these guys started bowing, he stood right up and started dancing!

JBB: So, what about Bridget? Any secrets?

Sara: She wants to be a backup dancer in a video!

Bridget: My first dream was to be a Janet Jackson dancer! That’s what I wanted to be! Now, I have to live vicariously through Britney Spears (chuckles).

Heather: Katie is an excellent artist, by the way. We always have coloring contests and she wins every time.

Sara: See the one on the staircase that’s all shaded? And, she does every sign for every birthday party that we have.

Katie: I have a lot of time on my hands (chuckles)! I really do love artwork and all, and I do have a lot of time on my hands, but this one (motioning to Heather) is great, if you’re talking about an artist!

Bridget: If she gets stressed out, she’ll draw all of these great dresses!

Katie: Heather is amazing! She’s sketches like a fashion designer.

Sara: Before she goes on vacation, she plans out her outfits! Incredible! Heather is amazing!

Bridget: Katie is the nail shop! Her nails are immaculate every day!

Katie: I have a lot of time on my hands (laughs)!

Bridget: You might get a sniff of nail polish tonight!

Katie: I went away for a week and I said, ‘I understand part of your pre-show routine is getting high off of my nail polish’—so I gave them all bottles of nail polish before I left so they wouldn’t miss it (laughs).

JBB: Hey, we need to feature your drawings, your manicures, and your dancing on the blog. Any others?

Sara: I can tell you anything about baseball. Big night tonight! I’m a BIG Yankees fan, and the Phillies are second.

Heather: So, we got to sing the National Anthem at the Home Run Derby at the old Yankee Stadium.

Sara: This is the worst secret ever! I’m getting nervous with you bringing it up again!

Heather: We have had every famous person ever come to Jersey Boys and she is so cool about it. She never gets nervous; she never needs to meet them. She’s like, ‘Whatever.’

We sing the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium and I’m standing next to Sara. Derek Jeter walks right in front of her and she’s like, ‘Oh My Gosh,’ then she dropped something. I’ve never seen her more crazy in my entire life! She was shaking; she was nervous; she was so cute! She was like this nervous little child—she couldn’t function. It was so funny! We have pictures of him everywhere around here!

Bridget: It was pretty fantastic! This theatre is so great—it’s a theatre of just guys playing guitars, and right now everybody is backstage rooting. In between being on stage, we can keep up on all the games, which is so fun.

Sara: Tonight is a BIG night—7:57 Eastern Standard Time!


  1. AWESOME INTERVIEW! These girls work so hard,it’s nice to see a feature on them. The guys are amazing, but it seems they get pretty much all the attention. So wonderful to see these incredibly talented women center stage! Not only are they talented, but very welcoming, kind, warm and a pleasure to visit whenever I’m in town! You go girls!!! You totally rock the house!! xo Wanda

    Comment by WANDA — December 15, 2009 @ 11:07 am

  2. Great interview with all four Jersey Girls! Really fun to hear them telling tidbits about each other.

    Comment by Tom — December 15, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  3. Thank you for giving Sara, Heather, Bridget & Katie some time in the spotlight. They are all such talented performers.

    Comment by Liz — December 15, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

  4. This was such a fun interview with the Broadway “Jersey Girls”. It was great to find out more about them behind the scenes. Thanks

    Comment by Robin — December 15, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

  5. The Jersey Girls really felt comfortable with you, Susie and Dale, and that made for a fabulous interview! Thank you, Charles

    Comment by Charles Alexander — December 17, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

  6. Thanks, Charles (and everyone else for your comments). We had a blast chatting with the Jersey Girls! They were so welcoming and they shared so many great stories with us!

    Comment by Susie — December 21, 2009 @ 11:21 pm

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