February 14, 2011

Going Back To Camp, Jersey Style

February 14th, 2011

By Pamela Singer, Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent

Remember as a kid when going to camp meant idyllic summers in bucolic locations far away from home? Picture shimmering lakes, bonfires, color wars, and lots of smores. Summers magically erasing all those school-year stresses and worries. You could be anyone you wanted away from home. Flash forward 30 years or so. You’re now a grown up, and still longing for an escape from everyday life and routine. Do you have fantasies of being a rock star, a Jersey Boy? Have I got some camps for you!! I recently had the chance to attend a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, where I caught up with Tommy James (of Tommy James and The Shondells fame) to talk about his latest projects. And in a separate interview, Jersey Boy (and Jersey boy) extraordinaire Dominic Scaglione, Jr. opens up about his experiences at Frankie Camp. So put on those uniforms and sneakers, kids, and listen up.

Tommy DeVito tells us early on in Jersey Boys that there’s only three ways out of his neighborhood, one of which is to become a rock star. It could happen, it DID happen for The Four Seasons. For those of us with less conspicuous talents and/or ambition, it can still happen, albeit temporarily. Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp is the brainchild of David Fishof, a former sports agent turned rock promoter. Since 2002, Fishof’s camps have found a real cultural niche through word of mouth and savvy marketing. Fishof contends, “Everyone has two businesses: their own business, and show business.” Hmmm, sounds like Frankie Valli telling us that “everyone has two families, one at home, and one on the road!” The camp’s official website, rockcamp.com, boasts that “our mission is to bring people’s musical fantasies to life, and make rock and roll dreams come true.” Campers are treated “like rock stars, living the rock and roll lifestyle day in and day out.” They interact with “counselors and mentors”, diverse professional musicians, including bona fide rock stars like Steven Tyler, Bill Wyman, Brian Wilson, and in this recent NYC camp, Tommy James and Roger Daltry. Over the course of 4 to 7 days, campers have master classes, jam sessions, and recording studio experiences. The life of a rock star does not come cheap, however. It costs from $5000 to $10,000 per camp session.

On a recent, cold Saturday afternoon, I ventured into the Gibson Guitar Studios on NYC’s West Side, invited to the second day of a four-day Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp weekend. The Studios, formerly known as The Hit Factory, have a long and glorious history. Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and Michael Jackson’s Thriller were both recorded there, along with countless other tracks. The walls were adorned with vintage guitars, concert posters, and album (yes,ALBUM) covers. Was this like a f—ing time machine or what?! Christy, the camp’s bubbly Directer of Corporate Sales, who could easily have stepped out of an 80′s girl group herself, led me down a rambling staircase. A roomful of middle aged men wearing rock and roll tee shirts and VIP name tags around their necks sat at long tables, most looking very serious. The atmosphere had the hushed, reverential aura of a church service about to start. Feeling somewhat out of sync, I took a seat just as Sandy Gennaro, that day’s Master of Ceremonies, and a storied drummer who’s played with everyone from Pat Travers to Joan Jett, took the stage to introduce Tommy James. Sandy’s introduction mentioned several of Tommy’s recent projects, including a Broadway show based on his life, noting that Jersey Boys had “set the gold standard” for that genre. “It’s a sign”, I thought, and breathed a sigh of relief, feeling right at home now.

After his “class,” I had a chance to sit down with Tommy, who remains as down to earth, genuine, and articulate as ever.

Pamela Singer: It’s great to see you again, Tommy. Congratulations on the continued success of your book, Me, The Mob, and The Music.

Tommy James: Thank you. Great to see you too. It’s been an amazing ride! I’ve never been an author before, and am incredibly flattered by the public’s, as well as the industry’s response to it. I never knew you could create so much havoc with a book! I’ve always thought in terms of hit singles and albums, never the written word. We’re rubbing shoulders now with some amazing people, planning a Broadway show and movie based on my life. It’s a whole new universe for me.

PS: The book is great and stands on its own. Even if you weren’t a musician, artist, and producer, you’d have a whole, new career as an author. We last spoke around a year ago, right after the book came out. These new projects were still in the early talking and planning stages. Sounds like you had a very busy, very exciting year, and things are really coming together. Of course, let me start by asking you how many times you’ve seen Jersey Boys since we last met?!

TJ: (laughs) Well, actually, I’ve only seen it once, and I loved it. I’ve learned a lot from seeing musicals this past year: how intense they have to be, how they can’t drop for even 30 seconds, how they have to be bang, bang, bang (literally and figuratively, as all Jersey Boys fans know!). I monitor my own feelings watching these shows. There can’t be any down time. If the show is not in your face constantly, something’s wrong.

PS: Very different from performing on stage, I imagine.

TJ: Exactly, and very different from shooting a movie. I’m really excited about these two projects, the screen and stage adaptation of my book, both of which will happen in the next year. The Nederlanders are producing the Broadway show, and we’ll be making an announcement soon about who’s involved with the movie. I’m reluctant to say any names right now, but things are happening very quickly.

PS: Excellent. Is producing a Broadway show similar to producing a song? Do you sign away your story the same way you would sign away song rights?

TJ: You do, yes. It’s for a term, a period of time. It’s called “life rights’. Isn’t that interesting, since it’s only for a term?! Barry Rosen, the executive producer of the show and the movie, owns the life rights to both. The life rights are essentially what’s in the book, your autobiography. If you’re a bed wetter, he wants to know beforehand (laughs)!

PS: Do you have control over the script, the casting?

TJ: I have a lot to say about it, but not total control. That’s involved with the life rights. The funny thing is this:when you write the screenplay for a movie, and the playbook for a musical, they are two totally different animals. Even though the facts are the same, the presentation is totally different. Whereas Jersey Boys is more linear and chronological, our show will be more of a songbook, which is a better fit with our music. It may pop up two or three different rhythms, which I find very interesting.

PS: Will the show incorporate the whole canon of your discography?

TJ: Yes, as much as can be used appropriately.

PS: Any other projects you’ve been involved with this year in your spare time (laughs)?!

TJ: (laughs) We recently signed with Angel Air Records in the U.K., and have already released several double CD sets in Europe and Australia. Another set, A Night In The Big City, is set to go in April. I’ve given a lot of print and radio interviews over there, and the response has been exceedingly positive and amazing. Like I said, it’s a whole new universe! In addition, we’re continuing to tour. I still love being in front of a live audience. Really, I’m just grateful that the good Lord has continued to bless me, and to keep my career going this long.

PS: Congratulations, Tommy, for everything! I look forward to following your continued success in all areas.

Dominic Scaglione, Jr. is currently electrifying Broadway audiences twice a week as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. The consummate Frankie, he was born in Belleville, N.J., near the real Frankie Vallli’s birthplace in Newark, and still lives in the Garden State. Prior to his current Broadway run, Dominic played Frankie Valli in Chicago and Las Vegas. Like every Frankie cast in all five Jersey Boys companies, Dominic is a graduate of Frankie Camp. In this refreshing interview, he offers insight and humor in telling what the camp is really like.

PS: Thanks for taking the time to talk about Frankie camp, Dominic. There’s been a lot of myths and curiosity regarding the camp among the fans and general public.

Dominic Scaglione, Jr.: I’ve had so many people ask me about it, or wonder if it’s like a Frankie conveyor belt or cloning machine (laughs), but that’s not the case. I believe the camp is more for the creatives to groom possible Frankies, and less of a training facility. It gives the actor an idea of what is expected of you, if you’re lucky enough to get cast. The role is so important, specific, and challenging that Frankie camp is very necessary for the decision process.

PS: Do all potential Frankies attend the camp?

DS: After someone has been seen by the creative team (Richard Hester, Ron Melrose, and Merri Sugarman) and thought to have the tools and capabilities for the role, they’re invited to the camp. The whole creative team is very passionate about this show, and who gets to join the family. They really care about the credibility of the show, so working with them is a lesson in itself.

PS: Can you describe the Frankie camp experience?

DS: It’s a three-day event consisting of dance, vocal, and scene work, held in a NYC rehearsal space. In my case, that was the Ripley Grier Studios. On the first day, we meet with Peter Gregus, Broadway’s Bob Crewe and Dance Captain. He takes us through some dance progressions, including the splits. We’re asked to learn a routine that we’ll eventually do for Sergio Trujillo (Lead Choreographer) and Danny Austin (Associate Choreographer). I remember looking around at all these guys who were shorter than 5’9″, and mostly all trained dancers, thinking “What the hell did I get myself into?!” (laughs). The second day, we meet with Katie Agresta, who shows us techniques to get our voices in shape to tackle the challenging score (of Jersey Boys). She is a genius, and really knows how to make the voice powerful enough to sustain those catastrophic notes. I had been studying with Katie on my own, so I felt comfortable with her already. On the third day, each of us meets with West Hyler, the Assistant Director to Des McAnuff. After explaining Des’s vision to us, we go through some of the Frankie scenes with him. He then gives us some input and direction on where to take the scene. Throughout all of this, I assume they’re keeping tabs on us and seeing which of us meet their expectations.

PS: Wow, sounds very nerve-wracking!

DS: Yes, it can be. After that, they choose the guys that have impressed them the most to go in front of Des for our final audition. This was a trip, because all of the creatives, including the producers, are in the room. We sing a little of “Moody’s Mood For Love,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Of You,” and “Walk Like A Man,” then do the scene work we learned with West and Merri. Once that’s done, they either hire someone, or keep the promising guys on file for any openings that come up. For me, the final audition was amazing. I felt so good, and left with a smile. Really felt that I’d nailed it, but of course, you don’t always know right there.

PS: I’m feeling the anticipation just hearing this! What happens next?

DS: Once you get the okay from Des and everyone else, then Bob Gaudio has to approve of you. He either comes to that final audition, or in my case, he showed up at a rehearsal I was doing with Ron, and surprised me. It was wild, because I did my final audition for Bob and everyone else, as well as Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman. One cool thing was that I got to read my scenes with none other than Rick Elice. He jumped up and asked if he could read with me. It was pretty surreal to be reading the lines with the man who wrote them! Rick is a saint. They asked me to wait outside, then Bob came out and said “So, Dom, do you want to go to Las Vegas?” And that was the beginning of a whirlwind of excitement I could never have dreamed possible.

PS: What an incredible journey you’ve had, Dominic, starting out as a Jersey boy, and now coming full circle back to Jersey Boys. Anything else you’d like to tell us about this amazing ride?

DS: What I will say to those cats trying to get here is that this is a 24/7 commitment. I have been blessed to be where I am, yet am still learning about this role. It is so complex that it always keeps you on your toes, and makes you work your ass off. In the last 2 1/2 years that I’ve been with the show, I’ve grown so much, but have also taken steps back. You have to have thick skin and a strong will to lace up those sneakers every night. However, I will say that the fulfillment you get at the end of each show is like nothing else you will ever experience.

PS: Thanks so much, Dominic. This has been fabulous. Wishing you every success in the future. See you at the theatre!


  1. What a wonderful article, Pam. Tommy James is a legend from my childhood, for heaven’s sake. Let’s get some sweet cherry wine to celebrate your coup. Who’s next on your list? I’m waiting for a piece on Neil Sedaka!

    With all we’ve read on the Blog, I didn’t know too much about Frankie camp. And Scags has got to be one of my favorite people of all time, never mind one of my favorite Frankies. He’s got such incredible warmth and charisma. I can just picture Rick now jumping up to read with him.

    Thanks Pam for a great uplift to a Monday morning.

    Comment by Howard — February 14, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  2. Brilliantly written, Pam. Another job well done!

    Comment by Gary — February 14, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

  3. Pam, what a great opportunity to talk to Tommy James. Yes, Howard, I do remember Tommy James.

    I have to agree with Howard, Dominic is really special and it was very interesting to read about the mysterious Frankie Camp.

    Thanks for a great article.

    Comment by Linda/Tiggerbelle — February 14, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

  4. Pam, is that style or what? Two great interviews in one article. What a terrific job you did!! Keep em coming!!

    Comment by Linda — February 15, 2011 @ 12:05 am

  5. What a fabulous article, Pam! You really made me feel as if I was attending Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. The interviews with Tommy James and Dominic Scaglione were also great. Thanks for a wonderful read!

    Comment by Jana — February 18, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

  6. Great article, Pam. But I have a couple of questions: Since R’n'R campers are treated “like rock stars, living the rock and roll lifestyle day in and day out,” I’ll bet those middle aged guys in that room that camp director Christy led you into were thinking, “Ah, the groupies are here! The groupies are here!” Did they behave themselves?

    And re Fankie camp, how interesting when Dom S. recalls, “One cool thing was that I got to read my scenes with none other than Rick Elice. He jumped up and asked if he could read with me.” So Dom obviously did well, but Rick didn’t get the part?

    Thanks for a very enjoyable article!

    Comment by stubbleyou — February 19, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  7. Thanks for the nice words, everyone! Stubbs, I have to say everyone was very well behaved when I was there that afternoon. Maybe the evening activities were racier!

    Comment by Pamela — February 20, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

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