June 9, 2012

Is There Life After Jersey Boys? A Profile of Mike Backes

June 9th, 2012

By Howard Tucker, Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent

So many of the JERSEY BOYS alumni have gone on to successful careers post JERSEY BOYS: J. Robert Spencer and Andrew Rannells with Tony-nominated turns on Broadway in “Next to Normal” and the “Book of Mormon” respectively, Colin Donnell and Shonn Wiley with Drama Desk nominations for “Anything Goes” and “My Vaudeville Man” respectively, Daniel Reichard at City Center as the lead in “Candide,” and Christian Hoff in “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum. Dan Sullivan, Jeremy Kushnier, and Christopher Kale Jones have also gone on to starring roles in major productions, to name just a few. Finally, let’s not forget the dynamic oldies and doo wop groups: The Midtown Men, Under the Streetlamp, and the Doo Wop Project.

Today we are honored to talk with Mike Backes, a successful swing from our Las Vegas group who has played both Bob Gaudio and Tommy DeVito, has recently performed in “Something for the Boys” on the New York Stage and is presently portraying Frankie (the Daniel Reichard movie role) in “Forever Plaid” in Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck, Rhode Island.

Howard Tucker: It’s a real pleasure to chat with you, Mike. Today we’re going to focus on your very successful post-Jersey Boys career. I have personally seen you in leading roles in “Something for the Boys” (a revival of the 1940’s Ethel Merman musical, for which you received wonderful notices) and “Dollface”, but I understand you’ve done so much more since Jersey Boys. Would you please bring the Blog followers up-to-date?

Mike Backes: Well Howard, since leaving Jersey Boys, I have indeed been involved in a lot of other projects. Directly after Jersey Boys, I played the lead role of Roger in a “little show” called “Rent.” I loved singing the angsty music in my shower, and playwright Jonathan Larson and I both grew up in White Plains, so I always felt a connection.

After “Rent” I was fortunate enough to go on tour with the first national tour of another “little show” called “Rock of Ages” with American Idol alumnus Constantine Maroulis.

HT: Quick observation, Mike. In Erik Haagensen’s sterling review of you in “Something for the Boys.” he labels you as “handsome, take charge” Mike Backes. Does that embarrass you and why would you want to alter those looks with all the scary makeup, especially in “Rock of Ages”?

MB: Well, I can’t take responsibility for what is perceived as “handsome”; gotta thank my parents for that. You oughta see my two beautiful sisters (laughs)!! Seriously, I think the so-called looks only get one so far…talent and dedication are far more important.

HT: So, what came after the two “little” shows of “Rent” and “Rock of Ages”?

MB: When I returned from “Rock” I was asked to join the prestigious Broadway Boys.

HT: I’ve never seen the Broadway Boys live, but I have heard their new renditions of “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Defying Gravity” and loved the unique arrangements. I also know that Jersey Boys stars Brad Bass, Josh Franklin, and Michael James Scott are members of the group. Are the Broadway Boys similar to the Midtown Men or Under the Streetlamp?

MB: Well, not exactly. Rather than focusing on the “oldies,” we redefine arrangements of pop, funk, gospel, jazz, and folk to showtunes and classic pop songs. We perform in groups of six and explore harmonies rarely presented by Broadway singers. We hope to introduce audiences across the country to genres of music with which they may not be familiar by fusing Broadway music and pop styles. We’re always looking for new projects. We put on a large venue production, complete with choreography, sets, and light design.

HT: Sounds like there’s a big future ahead for the Broadway Boys and something you can always fall back on. So what happened next?

MB: Well, speaking of “next”, my “next project was the Pulitzer Prize winning “Next To Normal” as Gabe at The Florida Studio Theatre.

HT: It’s a show I know well, having seen Bobby Spencer as Dan and Aaron Tveit in your role as Gabe five times. It was such a challenging role for which you also received wonderful reviews. But I still can’t figure out whether Gabe is a good guy or a bad guy.

MB: Well, I guess he’s both in a way. But the first act song “I’m Alive” sort of leans toward the bad guy image. In any case, it focuses on a subject that really hasn’t been dealt with before (mental illness) and was a wonderful experience. I’d be happy to do it again.

HT: It can be said for you since your Jersey Boys days, that you’re “not only alive, you’re so alive” (reference to N2N)!

MB: And that brings us to the present. I just finished a run of “Something For The Boys” on Theatre Row in NY. Thanks for coming by the way.

HT: At those prices, I wouldn’t have missed it. But the best part was my friend Dorian and I sitting next to some “old timers” (yeah, I’ll be there soon enough, too) who remembered both the Ethel Merman stage original and the movie with Carmen Miranda. We all noted that it was nearly impossible to upstage Merman, but if we had a time machine, our seatmates suggested you could do it (if Merman didn’t have you fired first)!!! As an aside, Mike, you were also a star in another former Miranda production, “Doll Face,” not with Miranda of course.

MB: Thanks—I’d loved to have given Merman a challenge! Currently I am starring in for “Forever Plaid”, playing Frankie (the Daniel Reichard movie role) at Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, Rhode Island. Following that, I head back to the Big Apple to play Jonathan in a brand new musical, called “Standby” appearing in The NY Fringe Festival.

HT: Well, I just “liked” “Standby the Musical” on its Facebook page. I’m seeing that you might play me in a way, since it involves five frequent travelers and their luggage. And I am “up in the air” on business more than George Clooney, except that it’s not to fire people!

MB: Playing you would be an honor, Howard.

HT: Not so sure about that, Mike. But you’d need more makeup than you wore in “Rock of Ages.” (Laughter) Let’s move on. Many alumni have said that Jersey Boys on a resume is something that no one can take away from them-ever. Have you found that more doors were open to you because of Jersey Boys?

MB: Obviously many doors have been opened from having the Jersey Boys credit, but that only gets one so far. I still have to continue to audition well, and with confidence, and I try to do so at every opportunity.

HT: So far, we’ve spoken all musicals. Do you prefer musicals or plays and why?

MB: I would love to be in a play, but with mostly musical theatre on my resume, there’s a good chance that’s the venue I’ll be cast in.

HT: Some plays are starting to incorporate a lot of music, such as Rick Elice’s masterpiece “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Who’s ever heard of a play being Tony-nominated for Best Score as PATSC has? In fact, I think you’d be perfect as the Black Stache in the touring production of PATSC.

MB: I’d love to work with Rick again. The man’s a genius.

HT: I know you’ve worked with a lot of different directors, Mike. How did you like Des McAnuff’s style?

MB : It’s funny that you ask about Des as a director, I saw him in action during rehearsals and in tech in San Francisco. He’s such a smart man and the way he has Jersey Boys move along is stunning.

My favorite Des moment was when all the swings were in house watching tech. He looked back and called my name to go over to him. I, of course, jumped to my feet and when I approached him he asked me to get him a coffee and find out the Giants’ game score for him. At the time I wasn’t amused, but looking back now, it’s pretty funny.

HT: That is a great moment. Guess you could have suggested he go to Dunkin’ Donuts, but I’m glad you didn’t or we wouldn’t be talking today!

What do you think has kept Jersey Boys running for over six years now, and making it into the Top 20 longest running shows on Broadway?

MB: I think what’s kept the show running so long is the “every man” mentality. People can relate to this story, and that’s what’s kept it great since day one. It was never about big stars being in it. It was just a great show, with a great story, that was told so simply. Don’t forget all the music that the people come in knowing. They’re all singing along, getting lost in the music, and rooting for these four blue collar guys with a dream from Jersey.

HT: You’re talking to one of them, Mike. As they say, everything happens for a reason. When I was hospitalized in October, 1962, never having listened to pop music, my hospital roommate had ABC radio and Cousin Brucie on all day and night, and I was hooked for life. Forty-four years later, when I first saw Jersey Boys, I felt as if I were reliving my entire life from 1962 on.

We’ve just learned that John Lloyd Young will be returning to Jersey Boys this summer in his Tony award-winning role of Frankie Valli. Would you like to return at some point for the roles you’ve handled as a swing: Bob Gaudio or Tommy DeVito?

MB: Ya know Howard, John Lloyd set the bar very high, and it’s exciting that he’s coming back, even if for a limited run. I would love to come back and play Tommy. He’s the pilot of the show, the one that makes it takeoff, and I’ve always gravitated towards that role. Don’t get me wrong…I loved playing Bob too, but thanks to West Hyler, I also played Tommy, and he will always be a part of me.

HT: So I guess Thomas Wolfe was wrong….one “can” go home again, as JLY has proven. So, let’s look toward the future, Mike. What lies ahead?

MB: The short answer, Howard, has always been Broadway, and I’m just going to continue to reach for it.

HT: What a pleasure it has been, Mike, to review your very successful Jersey Boys career and show us that there is indeed not only life…but a lot of life— after Jersey Boys. Thanks so much for your time and candor. I’m going to try my best to see you in “Forever Plaid” and certainly will see you in “Standby.” In the meantime, please keep us up to date on what’s happening.

MB: Will do, Howard. I thank the Jersey Boys Blogmistress, all the Jersey Boys’ fans, and you of course, for making this interview possible. My best to all of you.


  1. One night in Vegas, I was front and center at the Palazzo’s Jersey Boys Theatre waiting for the show to start. As many of you know, cast and crew often roam the audience during this time to greet friends and family who might be in attendance. Mike Backes didn’t know me nor I him, but he took the time to stop and introduce himself. He’d recognized me from previous shows and simply wanted to say “Hi” and to thank me for coming. We never had the opportunity to meet again after that, but the minute or so he spent with me that evening is still one of my favorite and most vivid Jersey Boys memories.

    Comment by Andrea Kim — June 10, 2012 @ 3:10 am

  2. Great interview! Howard, you are always so prepared. I used to think you just did your homework, but now that I know you…I have come to realize that all of this knowledge is already stored away in your brain. You must have created “Wikipedia”! You covered everything. Mike has quite a resume already and from the looks of it… a very bright future. Good Luck to you, Mike!

    Comment by Carolyn Miller — June 10, 2012 @ 10:51 am

  3. Wow, there really is a life after JB. Mike’s been all over the map. Would love to have seen him in N2N. I’m sorry I never got to see him in JB. You’d think after all the times I’ve been to Vegas, I would have caught him in a show.

    Who knew Des is a Giant’s fan!? I’m hoping that’s SF Giants and not NY Giants.

    Thanks for a great interview.

    Comment by Tiggerbelle/Linda — June 10, 2012 @ 11:17 am

  4. Nice interview, Howard. Sometimes I categorize my life as “life before and after Jersey Boys” too…but my life after JB certainly hasn’t been as exciting or Broadway-bound as Mike’s. I like the fact that he highlighted that JB certainly wasn’t a star-driven vehicle, yet it certainly created a few stars over the years. I also like the name he gives Susie, “JB Blogmistress”…it seems to suit our Susie…all-knowing, all-powerful, with just enough sass and spark to keep us entertained and informed ;)

    Comment by Lulu Thompson — June 10, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

  5. What a great interview, Howard. I always enjoy getting to know your “subjects”, and I can tell that they seem very at ease talking with you. That is such a gift!

    Congratulations to Mike on his success after JB, and I will be keeping an eye out for him in the future.

    Comment by Catherine — June 11, 2012 @ 6:30 am

  6. Another great interview, Howard! Your articles always make me feel like Im a fly on the wall while you’re talking, right front and center. Mike sounds like a great guy. Sorry I never caught him in JB, but jope to see him in a future endeaver.

    Comment by Pamela — June 13, 2012 @ 10:04 pm

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