October 18, 2007

JBB Interview Exclusive: Howard Tucker Interviews Colin Donnell!

October 18th, 2007

Colin Donnell

The very talented Colin Donnell joined the Jersey Boys cast this past summer as “Hank Majewski and others” replacing Steve Gouveia, who joined the National Tour. Colin is also the understudy to Bobby Spencer in the role of Nick Massi, and is presently rehearsing to cover Bob Gaudio. Before his evening performance on Friday, October 12, Colin sat down with Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent Howard Tucker to talk about his growing up in a close-knit family and discovering the theatre in St. Louis, his roles in Mamma Mia! and Almost Heaven, his television work on Conan O’Brien, and most of all, his wonderful ride to success in the Broadway hit Jersey Boys..

HT: I know you come from St. Louis, Colin. Do you happen to come from a musical family?

CD: I guess you could say I do. My dad played guitar as I was growing up. But my grandmom was really the one who saw me as a performer first. I remember going over to my grandparents’ house and always, at some point during the night, my grandmom would sing and play all the old standards. She had this great upright piano and stacks and stacks of music books with old American musical standards. When she passed away, she left all that great stuff to me.

HT: You’ve got such a great voice, Colin. You must have had voice training.

CD: I did later on. I didn’t start formally singing until high school. I took my first voice lessons at about age 17.

HT: Did you play an instrument as well?

CD: Guitar. I started playing because my older brother picked it up first.

HT: When did you get involved with acting? In high school, I’m guessing?

CD: Yeah, it’s funny story actually. I was playing football my freshman year in high school and broke my ankle three weeks into the season. After my ankle healed, I took up wrestling!

HT: Not the wrestling where you wore tights and a mask, I hope!

CD: (Laughs.) This was the legitimate stuff. I wrestled for about four weeks, but it was a bit much because of my ankle and at the time my high school was doing “Barnum.”

HT: One of my favorites. I remember the original quite well with Jim Dale and Glenn Close. Even though I only saw it once in 1980, I remember all the physical stuff with Jim jumping all over!

CD: Well my mom , since I’d been juggling since I’d been in fifth grade, suggested I go into the audition, and I juggled my heart out. Then the choir director asked if I could sing. I said no, and she asked me to sing “Happy Birthday.”

HT: I picture you doing it as sort of a “Cry for Me.”

CD: (Laughs.) Well, not exactly, Howard, but the choir director did think I had potential. She put me in the choir, and there I was on stage in “Barnum,” walking on a giant plastic ball, juggling all sorts of things and doing circus tricks. I just loved it, Howard, and that was my introduction to the stage. The rest, as they say, is history.

HT: I saw you last week with Ed Helms (“The Office”) singing Les Miz on Conan O’Brien’s show. There’s a nice close-up of you waving the French flag.

CD: Well, man, it’s on YouTube now. Look under “Ed Helms” and “Conan.” I lucked out since a good friend of mine and choreographer, Barry McNabb, has done a lot of these skits for Conan. Barry and I worked together last winter when I did “Meet Me in St. Louis” in Repertory Theatre. Ed needed some people to back him up for an idea he had for a skit. Barry hooked me up for it and it was a lot of fun.

HT: Your usual role in Jersey Boys is Hank Majewski and others. But you’re also the understudy for Bobby Spencer as Nick Massi.

CD: Yeah it’s a great part and presents a challenge for me vocally since my voice doesn’t sit in that range naturally. I also recently started understudying the Bob Gaudio role.

HT: Do you prefer one or the other?

CD: Each one has its great points. I like the Nick Massi role because of the acting involved. It’s got great moments throughout the show, especially the sit-down scene in Gyp’s basement; that really attracted me to that part from the beginning. That said, Bob Gaudio feels a little closer to home, because of my age and the way my personality tends to go. I don’t feel as if I relate to the compulsive behavior that Nick has but it’s always fun to explore those traits. With Bob I feel like I get to let a lot of myself slip in and it seems to fit very easily. They both are challenging and exciting roles to play.

HT: You came into an already formed family of sorts and everyone seems to have embraced you.

CD: It’s such a great family around here and I’ve been lucky enough to go into other shows in the past, where I’ve been welcomed into an already formed group. Actually, I was only the fourth person added to the OBC—after Matt Scott, Kris Coleman, and Travis Cloer. I had my work cut out for me, after a year and a half, to come in replacing Steve Gouveia, whom everyone loved. There are so many great people here, and I’ve formed friendships with so many of them.

HT: Let’s talk about your prior experience with musicals. You’ve done Mamma Mia!

CD: Sure did. I did that on the road for eight months—January to August, 2006, and it was a great experience. I really enjoyed it and I loved playing to huge houses all singing and clapping along.

HT: Weren’t you a bit young to remember the original ABBA?

CD: I was, but during the show, I learned little tidbits about ABBA, like that they didn’t speak English very well and sung a lot of the songs phonetically.

HT: Yeah, that did get some press at the time. It was the same with the group Blue Swede, also from Sweden, who had a hit with the old BJ Thomas song, “Hooked on a Feeling!” You then did Almost Heaven, a tribute to John Denver, which, if I’m right, opened about the same time as Jersey Boys?

CD: It did, Howard, right about this time of year, just two years ago.

HT: I loved John Denver, and know all his songs. One of my accounting clients is John’s first cousin, so you’re even bringing me closer to home. And sadly, today we remember John even more as Oct. 12 was the tenth anniversary of his passing.

CD: “Almost Heaven” was a very loving concert tribute to John, his memory, and his music. There were 29 songs in the show, and the arrangements were so wonderful, some straightforward as John did them, and some in a slightly new direction. It was done very simply, three men, three women, and a great five piece band led by Charlie Alterman. I covered all the men’s roles, including Jim Newman, who sort of played the John Denver character. The songs were interspersed with various autobiographical pieces and fan letters from John’s life.

HT: Wish I could have seen it, Colin. It wasn’t around too long, was it?

CD: It lasted about two and a half months, and closed January 1, 2006. But I sort of do know how you feel, Howard. When I’d be in the lobby collecting for Broadway Cares, people would come up to me, so grateful that there was this living tribute to this great man’s life and songs.

HT: What was the genesis of your trying out for Jersey Boys?

CD: I tried out for the 2nd National Tour originally, expecting to go on the road if I landed a role. After three callbacks, my agent telephoned me, telling me I was being offered the Hank Majewski opening in the OBC, as Steve Gouveia was going to join the National Tour. I was thrilled, since it meant I’d be able to settle down in one place for a while and actually get an apartment.

HT: How do you feel now that you’ve been with the Company for several months, Colin?

CD: I consider myself really lucky. I have worked very hard, but sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time. I am grateful every day that I have a job, have a great family nearby that supports me, and great friends in the show.

HT: Your family is nearby?

CD: I have two older brothers, and one lives here in the City and the other in Philadelphia. They’ve really saved my sanity on many occasions, and just being able to speak with them, with neither in the business, gives me a lot of strength. They’ve been my saving grace.

Collin Donnell
Colin Donnell photo courtesy of Indiana University

HT: You’ve just turned 25, Colin. How were you introduced to the Four Seasons?

CD: All the songs were in the back of my mind from listening to the oldies stations on the radio growing up. When I got into the show, I realized how many hits these guys had. Just the proliferation of Gaudio and Crewe, with Frankie singing—how can one have the inspiration to produce so many hits? And as you know, the book is so incredibly well-written.

HT: You were wonderful in “Cabaret Cares,” Colin. Any thoughts of doing your own cabaret show?

CD: You know, Howard, I love doing cabaret shows, but I get really nervous–until I get on stage. Then it’s always a big party. The people behind “Tinyard Hill,” which I read with Heather Ferguson, might be planning a cabaret soon at Ars Nova, and asked if I might be interested, which of course I am!

HT: Yeah, “Tinyard Hill” got some really great reviews, including a post on the Jersey Boys Forum of how great your voice is. It’s unfortunate only “Broadway insiders” were invited to the reading. I would have loved to have seen it.

CD: Well, that’s sort of true, Howard. It was insiders first, but there was a standby line and, if seats were available, the general public could enter. I only found that out last minute. But I’m happy the feedback has been great and that Heather and I were able to be a part of the piece together; she was wonderful. I was so happy that Gillian Anderson from Jersey Boys was our musical director and Steve Gibb (also from JB) played guitar.

HT: Looking at your MySpace page, Colin, that’s a wonderful headshot.

CD: Thanks Howard. That’s compliments of my brother Ryan Donnell. (www.ryandonnell.com). Now, who took that great picture of you and me?

Howard Tucker and Collin Donnell

HT: My fellow Blog correspondent and photographer, the talented Audrey Rockman. Now, you’re not upset that I look almost as good as you in the shot, are you?

CD: It was never a contest to begin with, Howard. I admit defeat. How do I get to look a bit more like you?

HT: Some moisturizer and a healthy appetite!

CD: (Laughs) This was a great session, Howard. Thank you.

HT: I enjoyed it just as much, Colin. Good luck with your understudying for Bob Gaudio, and please give me a shout the first time you go on!


  1. Howard, again a great interview, keep it up, Reiner

    Comment by Reiner Bussmann — October 19, 2007 @ 7:14 am

  2. Nice interview, Howard. Colin has been a terrific addition to the Broadway cast as Joe Long and other parts. I’m looking foward to bringing Colin and the real Joe Long together at the big benefit party this Sunday evening at Marriott Marquis in New York. Regards, Charles

    Comment by Charles Alexander — October 19, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  3. Wonderful interview, Howard. Colin seems like a really nice guy. I’m happy he found his way to “Jersey Boys”.

    Comment by Melissa — October 19, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  4. Great interview, Howard. I agree with Charles. Colin does a marvelous job in his many roles. Just like the rest of the cast, he is warm, friendly and so appreciative of his fans.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone on Sunday.

    Howard, we all know what the future holds for you! Congratulations, my friend. IE

    Comment by irene eizen — October 19, 2007 @ 9:51 am

  5. Howard,

    Great work again! I really like when your interview becomes personal for both you and your interviewee.


    Comment by Sean — October 19, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  6. Howard, once again you’re outdone yourself. Bravo! I believe it was me who took that pic of you and Colin at Cabaret Cares, correct?

    Comment by Gary — October 19, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  7. Hi Gary, my pal. Yes, you were among the paparazzi at “Cabaret Cares” who participated in the photo shoot, but after a review by the Blog’s board, Audrey’s shot was deemed the best for this piece. (Actually, Gary, this was from Audrey’s camera…the one you took from my camera is also great though!–thanks!!) Thanks all for the great comments. I really enjoyed sitting with Colin.

    Comment by Howard Tucker — October 19, 2007 @ 1:09 pm


    Comment by james petrecca — October 19, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  9. Ineresting interview. You guys seem to hit it off very well. You have a knack for getting people to open up.

    Comment by Bron Burda — October 19, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  10. Cool interview Howard. Matches the cool pictures.

    I loved the casual feel of the interview, touching on the different parts of his life, his family (the close relationship with his brothers), and of course, his career.

    He is also very handsome and photogenic. The opportunity to cover Bob Gaudio and understudying Nick Massi is a good thing. I hope I get the opportunity to see him perform when I visit New York.

    Good luck Colin! From the OC.

    Comment by Angel — October 20, 2007 @ 9:08 pm

  11. Thanks to all for the great comments. Angel, my west coast buddy, one point of clarification: is Colin handsome and photogenic in general, or compared to the other party in the third photo? (LOL-no need to respond!)

    Comment by Howard Tucker — October 21, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  12. Howard –

    I was in Maine this pass weekend at a B&B. Over breakfast, and on another table, an older couple hear me talking and said you must be from Jersie. I said, why yes…………. Fast forward, they told me you have to see Jersey Boys, they saw it twice in California and the show is great. I said they were 100% right. And, I mentioned they should look at this
    site for more great details, especially interviews from you. Howard, its another great interview.

    Steve S from NJ

    Comment by Steve Steinbergher — October 26, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

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