March 11, 2008

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Bryan McElroy!

March 11th, 2008

By West Coast Correspondent Cathi Aradi

As we continue our series of interviews with the San Francisco holiday cast of Jersey Boys—I am happy to bring you my conversation with Bryan McElroy, the newest Tommy DeVito. Bryan’s irrepressible humor and unstoppable energy make him a natural for the part. Onstage, he creates a Tommy who is at once cocky and uncertain, a Tommy who sometimes senses he’s made a wrong turn, but who is too headstrong to put the brakes on in time. Audiences will dislike Tommy at times—that’s a given. But the measure of the actor portraying Tommy is his ability to make us care about him. Bryan McElroy “delivers!” (NOTE: Jersey Boys closed in San Francisco in December, and Bryan will be wowing audiences as part of the Chicago company beginning March 11, 2008! These interviews were originally done while the show was at the Curran Theater, and some of the content has been updated/edited.)

JBB: You have the typically “storied” background of many of the Jersey Boys cast members. But the role of Tommy DeVito may be your “breakout” role. Why do you think you stood out when you auditioned for the part?

BM: Well, I’ll tell you what I think it may have been, but nobody on the creative staff has ever said anything of the sort. When I was called in for this show I was originally asked to read for the part of Bob Gaudio. I’m not great at the piano, but I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to learn, so I said okay. I got to the audition with twenty pages of sides and music, memorized and ready to rock. I go in the room and meet the reader who is sitting next to the casting table (not an uncommon place for him to be). I generally prefer the reader to get up and act with me and often times will ask, but I spotted a chair from across the room and decided to grab it and sit in it, so as to be on the same level as them (I didn’t see Bob as a character who would talk down to anyone). I did about half the scene, and they said, “Stop! No. You aren’t right for this part! Take a look at these sides.” (The Tommy sides.) They said the way I grabbed the chair and took command of the audition was who this “Tommy” guy was. I cold read it, and they asked me, “Have you seen the show?” I said, “No. Who can get tickets?” They said, “Okay, you are gonna go over and watch the matinee today and come back tomorrow with this material. You are on the right track.” So THEN I see the show and love it and get an idea of what I might do with the part, and my agent calls me and tells me that they want me to bring my guitar so they can hear me play and sing. But he was very adamant that they didn’t want me to sing ANYTHING from the show, just something in the style of the show that I’m comfortable with. They wanted me to sing stuff from the show with the piano. Well, guess what? “Silhouettes” just happens to be a song that I’d been playing on my guitar for years. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play it for an audition, ‘cause I play/sing it rather well—and I’d be most comfortable playing a song I knew versus learning a new one—so I said to myself, “Would Tommy follow the rules of what these auditors tell me I must and mustn’t do?….Hmmm. No! F*** that! I’m gonna play and sing “Silhouettes.” Why not? I’d have to do both in the show anyway!” So I did it, and they loved it. For the callback they asked my agent to instruct me the same thing—NOTHING FROM THE SHOW PLEASE—and I said, ‘F *** it!” once more…and here we are! I am playing Tommy DeVito. Whether or not my defiance of the rules landed me the role, I’ll never know; but I like to think it did.

JBB: You are a multi-talented performer. If you had your choice, would you prefer to become a star as a writer, a singer, or an actor?

BM: I’d love to act for as long as my body can stand it. I always dreamed that I’d some day focus more on writing (when I’m burned out from the stage). I think I’m a pretty good writer with a lot of thought provoking things to share with the world. But ya’ know…artists like to try and do everything. I consider myself a jack of all trades, yet a master of none.

JBB: Tommy DeVito is acknowledged as the “bad boy” of the group, and he is the character who has to “grab” audiences from his first entrance at the beginning of the show. The other actors playing Tommy around the country have all put their unique stamp on this part. What have you done to make it your own?

BM: Wow! Well, I’m sure you know that every cast for this show undergoes three or more days of dramaturgy. So we know a lot of information about these people, doo wop, what things cost back in those days, what a Belvedere LOOKS LIKE, footage of the group, original recordings, and pictures of their neighborhood in Jersey and of Rahway Correctional Facility. Along with working with a dialect coach, I tried to find some truth in this larger than life person. I think I make it my own by not really knowing what other Tommy’s do. That is really of no help to me. If I tried to do the show like Christian, I would fail. He is, of course, the man…but things that work for him might look awkward on me because they are his interpretation. I just try to relate as much with the audience and my cast. I think that in a month I’m gonna be really loose and even better. I feel I’m still very technical with the show as far as blocking, props, changes, dance steps and lots of lines…so I haven’t explored all of the fun there is to be had as Tommy. It is the beginning of what I imagine will be an exciting journey.

JBB: Performing so many shows each week is both invigorating and exhausting. What do you do to keep your energy up and to stay focused?

BM: I go to the gym everyday except two-show days (that’s tiring enough). I play my guitar daily. I run my lines, aloud, pacing back and forth behind the fence before every show from 15 minutes until curtain. The energy isn’t much of a problem for me. I’m like a Yorkie! I get energized every time the orchestra starts this show off. It’s rather amazing. This show is so much fun to do, how can you be tired?

JBB: How much does the audience response affect your performance? What do you do to stay “up” if you have a less enthusiastic crowd?

BM: It’s tough. I’d love to say, “I don’t let the audience affect me.” But I think that it does play its part in the show. And some days feel more like you are “at work,” but that is what makes having such an amazing group of people supporting you onstage. This cast really REALLY gets along and loves each other and we’re all here for one another. If the audience isn’t into it, then we need to have fun on stage, if we can. Generally, if we’re having fun, they are. And I don’t mean, messing around onstage, I mean enjoying one another and not being as reliant on the audience. Too good of an audience can also spoil stuff. You might do something different one night and get a huge laugh and then try to duplicate it and fail. This material is so good, you really have to trust it regardless of how the audience responds. If you can find the truth in everything you say, you will never fail as an actor.

JBB: What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage–either with Jersey Boys or another show?

BM: I don’t get so much embarrassed as angry when I mess certain things up on stage. I’m not a great dancer (I’ve had surgery on each of my knees in the past 3 years), and I struggle with it a lot. So, sometimes when my brain completely takes a siesta during Sherry/Big Girls/Walk/Dawn I am embarrassed for having messed up so much. When you got four guys doing the same thing, it’s really easy to spot the guy who just doesn’t belong. And (when I was in San Francisco) Rick was such an amazing dancer, I had to stand next to him for some of that. So I hoped people were looking at him.

JBB: What are your favorite things to do when you’re not performing?

BM: I love to play poker, go to baseball games, play darts, write music, draw, see movies and exercise.

JBB: Pursuing a career in acting is a little like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What keeps you motivated?

BM: Boy, I don’t really know. I’ll tell ya, I’ve thought of just quitting a few times, but then realized I’m not really suited to do anything else. At this time last year I was working in the stock room at J. Crew in New York and hate, Hate, HATED it! I couldn’t picture doing that every day for ten hours a day. Not for me. Waiting tables? I don’t have the patience for that. I think that knowing how fun my job is and being a professional in my trade keeps me motivated.

JBB: In your time with Jersey Boys, what have you found to be the most surprising about it?

BM: I’ve never been in a show that had so many repeat patrons and hardcore fans. I didn’t know it was that kind of popular. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally great, and you are the people that keep us all employed, but I’m not quite used to it yet. I mean, every now and then I’d sign an autograph for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! But nothing like this show (and there were only four people in that too, so my role was relatively big).

JBB: Where would you like your career to go after you leave Jersey Boys?

BM: Yeah, I hope to be a part of JB for as long as they’ll have me. I’m so blessed, and I’ve never had more fun in my life. Every actor my age wants to be playing this part and only a handful of us get to do it. It’s an honor. Who knows? I mean, I played Jimmy in the first national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and after that closed I didn’t work as an actor for a year. Couldn’t get hired! I thought that was a big deal. I try not to think too much about that. I know I’d definitely like to buy a place in New York, con some girl into marrying me and have a family…but I don’t know when all of that’ll happen.

Thank you to Cathi Aradi and the incredibly talented Bryan McElroy for this marvelous and insightful interview and all the best to Bryan in Chicago!


  1. Very well done, Cathi! I really enjoyed Bryan’s interpretation of Tommy when I saw him a few months ago. He’ll swoon the Chicago audience just like he did in San Fran. He’s a great actor.

    Comment by Gary — March 11, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

  2. Just a fantastic interview, Cathi. Again, you captured the essence of Bryan as we saw him perform several times and chatted even more times at the stage door with him. Just a terrific performer. I love this guy, bad knees and all, and I especially love how he auditioned and did it HIS way!!

    Comment by LindaL — March 12, 2008 @ 10:29 am

  3. Another great one Cathi. I saw Bryan as Tommy twice in SF and he was amazing. Not only is he a great actor, but also a really nice guy. I can’t say enough good things about him. Chicago is lucky to have him!

    Comment by Krystal — March 12, 2008 @ 2:57 pm

  4. Nice job, Cathi and Bryan.

    Bryan, I enjoyed the story about “Silhouettes”, and I think it’s good you “branded” yourself as a bit of a renegade by not precisely following the directive (ala Tommy), thereby separating yourself from the other candidates. I’m wondering, though, if you took the next step with an updated “cyber” version of the lyrics, i.e., “you’re on the wrong Blog” instead of “you’re on the wrong block”, etc.–I guess not–then you WOULD be playing Bob Gaudio!!!

    Comment by Howard Tucker — March 12, 2008 @ 6:40 pm

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