September 21, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Chicago Cast Member Michael Cunio–Part Two!

September 21st, 2009

Visit for more incredible music and lyrics from the band’s debut EP, in addition to news, tour dates, and photos!

In Part One of Michael Cunio’s JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview, he gave us the lowdown on his past and the experience of becoming a Jersey Boy! Along with Cunio sharing some amazing insight into playing the role of Tommy DeVito, Part Two features EXCLUSIVE coverage of Reckless Place, including tracks from their debut EP and thoughts from the band’s co-founder and “musical mastermind,” Dios!

JBB: Did you finish recording on schedule?

MC: Nope! We’re still doing it. The album should be finished by the end of September. I go back next week to finish the last of the vocals that we have to record. Dios is here [in Chicago] because we’re rehearsing the band that we put together here. The album will be finished in September and hopefully, we’ll start playing out around town.

JBB Tech Half: So, Dios, are you planning to move to Chicago?

Dios: You know, we talked about it a lot, but we decided that space was probably the best thing. I have my normal 9 to 5 job in New York that pays the bills. If I came out to Chicago, I’d probably be stuck in retail and I’d hate myself. In addition to being a musician, I have to keep myself mentally challenged in my day job in New York.

JBB: What’s your story, Dios?

Dios: Here’s my mini-bio: I went to Georgetown for a year and I hated DC. I wanted to be a rock star and move to New York so I transferred to NYU. Before I even signed up for a class, I met some guys and put a band together. We started this singer search that ended three years later. I was like, ‘It doesn’t matter. By the time I graduate, we will have recorded something, and I will never have to get a job!’ Of course, that never happened. I graduated early and I guess I got used to making money. Making money is cool and it seems like I buy a guitar every week.

When we talked about it, he [Cunio] wanted me to move, but I was very uncomfortable about making the move to Chicago. We then decided that the space would be good for each other. He being in Chicago and me being in New York has allowed us to grow and develop. I’ve become like a studio rat—twisting knobs and looking for the right sound. It’s great that he can sing all these things, but I want to see how else we can use his voice. I’m totally into that kind of stuff and working by myself has given me the freedom to explore. I’m also a little bit of a control freak, so I think I need this space.

MC: We both are, I think that’s why our creative process is so back and forth. Because we can say, ‘I like this, I don’t like this.’ Then, we have the privacy to go in and tweak something with a harmony or a melody, or if he wants to do something with the bass or the drums, we can do that, then put it out for each other.

JBB: It’s great how you both recognize that you might be control freaks and give each other space. It seems like it works well for both of you.

MC: Much like in the relationship with the four of us [in Jersey Boys], everybody contributes something different and everybody does something brilliant in their own way.

We empower each other to grow and to be as complete as we can be. It only benefits the whole. We’re very much a team. We don’t do anything that we can’t both sign off on. That can make things really difficult sometimes, but it ensures that we’re both 100% behind whatever product we’re delivering.

JBB: The team effort is so big between you and Dios, as well as among you and your three Jersey Boys’ co-stars, isn’t it?

MC: It’s the same thing with the four of us and what we bring to the stage every night. I know what I have to do; Shonn [Wiley], Michael [Ingersoll], and Dominic [Scaglione, Jr.] know what they have to do. As a unit, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We all joke that this show is so perfectly written, so well-structured that it’s almost actor-proof…It almost doesn’t matter who you have doing what, saying what, singing what. The way that they structured this show, if you’re in the audience you can’t help be on your feet by the end of it.

But when you have the luxury of people working together who understand what we’re trying to do, then the experience becomes sublime—it takes it to that next level.

With the four of us, it’s been an incredible thing to hear the comments that people make about our chemistry on stage–that’s the greatest compliment. I don’t think anyone is competing to be singled out because A. We have so much fun with each other on stage. and B. When we really work together, we see how that translates to the audience and can feel it in how they respond!

For Dios and me, it’s very much the same thing. Yesterday, we had this experience playing–we’re a duo, we comprise the whole band. Dios plays bass, guitar, drums, and I sing. So, most of our work can only happen in the studio. This weekend was the first time in a long time that we got to hear our music interpreted by a group of musicians. It was so exciting because it still worked. It didn’t just work in the studio. It’s almost more exciting live, because there’s a whole organic thing that happens. You get to see that you’re greater than the sum of your parts.

JBB: Cunio, you seem like you’re easily juggling your responsibilities as Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys and with Reckless Place!

MC: It’s cool to be in an environment that is so supportive. Everybody in our cast has other things that they are doing. We play with guys in our pit who are so excited about what we’re doing. We love what we do every night, but the other projects we are doing gives us another outlet to be creative and expressive.

JBB: Considering you are in Reckless Place, trying to make your way in today’s music world, what insight does that give you into playing the role of Tommy DeVito, the founder of The Four Seasons eight times a week?

MC: For me, it’s about the hustle–that’s one thing that I love about Tommy and respect unilaterally about him–his motivation. He never stops hustling. He is trying so hard, whether it’s robbing a jewelry store, hotwiring cars, or playing a shit gig in Nevada—he’s got his eye on the prize.

Yeah, he fucked up, yeah, he gambled, yeah, he got distracted. But, at the end of the show, what he says is very true—he held it all together until they hit. He was the captain of that ship and every shit job and lame gig and club date he could find, he booked for these guys.

In our circumstances, it’s inspirational because you don’t get to just be a singer, or a writer, or a musician—you have to be a promoter and a manager and a booker and an agent. That’s where Tommy excelled leaps and bounds more than I do. We’ve struggled very much in figuring out how to put this material out to the world, how do we get the gigs, how do we promote the website, how do we sell the album.

Tommy never stopped working. He says that line to Nick, ‘You have to get up before Noon to start your own group. (chuckles)’ I think you get the sense from Tommy that he never stopped working to make this dream of his happen. That’s something that’s been very true for us.

Dios works in the financial world. We joke that where our ‘day jobs’ are concerned, we’ve reached the top. It doesn’t get better than what he does in the finance world; it doesn’t get bigger than Jersey Boys in the theatre community. But we both define ourselves by this band. We both want to be doing this other thing that is important to us. We put in the hours and we put in the time so that we can make this thing happen. And I think this is very applicable to Tommy DeVito. There was nothing that he wouldn’t do for the band to take them to the next step. However we succeed or fail, that’s something very valuable that we have learned.

JBB: Off-stage, do you share any similarities with the Tommy DeVito character?

MC: Anybody that knows me would be quick to say that I couldn’t be less like this character. That was one of the great motivations for taking this job—as much as I define myself as a musician, the actor part of me will never get to play a role that’s better than this. I will never get to have this much fun on the stage in this way. I say that because of how exceptional this material is.

Even when I’m having a terrible day, I know that if I do nothing but say the words in the right order, it’s going to be great. I love the sit-down scene. As Dominic said, that’s when we get naked, so to speak, and really be honest with one another. I think because of our relationships personally, we’re able to really take big risks with each other and we get a big payoff because of it.

That scene with Lorraine—I love that scene! To me, that is Tommy DeVito to the core. By that time, the relationships are so deep and you can see the history, everything they’ve been through… He knows exactly what he’s doing and why.

There’s something that we talk about a lot, this idea of the first wife, second wife. Tommy DeVito is the first wife and Bob Gaudio is the second wife to Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. There’s a whole jealousy there, a whole play that happens around that.

Tommy DeVito is layered like an onion—you love him, you hate him, his intentions are great, his intentions are selfish. As an actor, you get to explore so many aspects of yourself.

Dominic said he gets to work out his demons every night. For me, it’s a similar kind of experience, because I’m so different from Tommy. I get to let go of certain things and I get to take advantage and explore darker aspects of myself every night. There isn’t a fight on this planet that Tommy would back away from, whereas I’ve never been in a fight in my life.

That said, I think that if I hadn’t had the life that I’ve had and if I hadn’t left theatre, and gotten on with my life in different ways, I never would have been able to play this part. I’ve had a whole life that has existed beyond the realm of this industry and I think the timing of it all worked out in such a way that I was in a place in my life where I could understand this guy.

Tommy is somebody who I would say in a lot of ways is defined by the battles that he has fought. He has won a lot of them, but he has won them kicking and screaming, and there is a part of me that really understands that.

JBB: The differences between you and the Tommy character are huge! You’ve gained such insight into playing this character—only after eight weeks on the stage.

MC: On a whole other level, being trusted to play this kind of role and knowing that Christian Hoff did it and won a Tony for it—it’s not a responsibility you can take lightly.

Above and beyond any of the bullshit I have said, it’s so much fun to be that guy. It’s so much fun knowing that, on stage at the very least, none of the rules apply to you. He’s got that swagger and there’s nothing that he’s going to be afraid of.

It’s funny with Dios and I—you listen to our music—we play very loud, very heavy, very serious rock and roll, but in life, we’re both kind of shy, insecure people.

JBB: Is there a certain scene or number that you really connect with in Jersey Boys that relates to your life as the co-leader of Reckless Place?

MC: It’s the Walk Line A Man number. We get to the moment where they’ve hit, and for me, it represents everything that I hope to experience with Reckless Place. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a rock star. With this job, it’s so close and yet so far (chuckles). I’m playing a rock star!

I think about the band every time we get to that number, because I feel that if and when we get to that moment where we’re playing a stadium, or our song is in the Top 5 on the radio, that’s what it’ll feel like. Walk Like A Man is the peak. In terms of the structure of the show, for these guys, it never gets better than that moment. The choreography, the lights, and the way the audience responds are amazing during that scene.

I will say the other moment that is breathtaking for me every night is when we rise up out of the stage. It’s pretty hard not to feel like a rock star when you hear the applause. It’s interesting because it’s on stage and we’re playing other people, but it represents the journey that Reckless Place is on. It’s a very powerful thing to get to have that experience.

JBB: You and Dios have such a great connection as friends and artists. It seems like you’re connecting similarly to your castmates.

MC: Michael Ingersoll, who plays Nick, and I are very close. One of the things I love about Dios is that we keep each other very honest. If there’s a lyric that sucks or a melody that’s kind of lame—we’re very honest with each other.

Ingersoll and I are very much the same way. If I had a shitty scene or his line was off, we don’t pull our punches, so to speak. We really keep each other honest.

JBB: We interviewed Michael Ingersoll earlier today and talked about his role with so many new members of the cast. He really takes a lot of time with new cast members.

MC: One of my greatest fears is that Michael will leave the show. I’m the newest kid on the block; I’ve been doing the show for eight weeks. Like I said, our relationship has gelled very well. For the two of us, especially when we come up out of the stage, and we can hear the applause and we can hear how grateful the audience is to have The Four Seasons together again, it’s a really cool thing—it’s really special.

JBB: What are the toughest parts and the most exciting parts about taking on the role of Tommy DeVito for you?

MC: I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman did such an incredible job with the script that I feel like they did all the work for me. I joked when I got the job, the first thing I said was, ‘They bought that?’

That’s a credit to the script. If you say the words right, in the right order, 98% of the job is done for you. I’ve never had material that is so gratifying to perform every night.

For me, I would say, because I am a much more chill person, the hardest thing for me is establishing authority. In the context of this show, it’s my job to be the captain of the ship and to be the taskmaster.

In my own personal life, one of the things that is frustrating about us [Cunio and Dios], is that we are both so easygoing and laid back, and quick to defer authority. We sometimes say, ‘I don’t care, whatever you wanna do.’ Tommy is not that way at all. He’s direct, incisive, specific, and to the point. For me, that’s sort of been the struggle.

That said, it’s also one of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about getting to be that guy every day- -getting to put on that jacket and pretend to be this character that is so far from myself. I’ve never had so much fun on stage in any role that I have ever played in my life. I think that’s due in part to Tommy DeVito the person, for being such a dynamic, conflicted and contradictory person.

JBB: Cunio, in your eight weeks of playing the role of Tommy DeVito, what have you discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before starring in Jersey Boys Chicago?

MC: In general, performers beg for applause for a living. What does that say about us? As people, we’re tremendously insecure.

I’m still finding my way in this role and learning new things everyday, but it has certainly given me a great deal of confidence and a great deal of validation. It’s been a tremendous gift to get to come back to this world and this theatrical community in this context. I never thought I would do another musical; I never thought I would do another major production.

For somebody to think that I had the makings of whatever it takes to be this person and to do this job, it’s very humbling, very inspiring, and very validating.

You know, as far as learning things about myself, I’ve learned that I do have authority; I can take control; and I can be an impetuous prick (chuckles). People like to say in this industry that you’re only as good as your last job. For me, I feel like all of the lessons I’ve learned in life have sort of brought me to this place.

All of the beatings I’ve taken from my older brothers; all of the struggles I’ve experienced as somebody trying to make it in a band—it has all formed this performance.

Had this opportunity come to me at any other time, at any other place, I don’t know if it would’ve worked out quite the same way. If anything, it’s taught me how to be grateful and how to be humble.

I have no idea what I’m doing on this stage; I have no idea what I’m doing here. But every night, we have such a great time and not a moment of this experience has passed where I haven’t said thank you for how lucky I am to get to do this job and to tell this story.


  1. So many great insights. What a great interview. Thanks!

    Comment by Rose — September 21, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  2. What a versatile & talented performer Cunio is! It’s been great getting to know more about him as an actor and a musician. Loved these interviews with him!

    Comment by TeresaJ — September 21, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

  3. Great interviews! It is hard to believe that he had this kind of insight on playing Tommy DeVito after only 8 weeks of starring in the show.

    Comment by Pat C — September 21, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  4. Great interview with Michael Cunio! Glad we got to find out more about Reckless Place, too.

    Comment by Gina — September 21, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

  5. Part 1 was really good, but this one was even more interesting. I think we may be hearing more about Cunio and Reckless Place soon. That band rocks!

    Comment by Jacob — September 21, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  6. This guy is smokin and we’ll definitely be hearing from him in the future. I had front row tickets over the weekend and during the “Oh What a Night” scene, he had these bedroom eyes going on that reduced me to a little puddle in my seat and from then on I couldn’t take my eyes off him. That and I was trying to figure out how I could club him over the head and drag him back to my hotel room without getting arrested. :)
    Reckless Place is awesome and hopefully we’ll be hearing more of it in the near future.
    Don’t totally give up on Broadway Cunio! We’d miss you too much if you went away again!

    Comment by Cat — September 23, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  7. Cat – lol! Love your post. He sure does have some intense eyes. I agree….we’ll be hearing a lot more from Michael and Reckless Place.

    Comment by Becky — September 24, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  8. Really enjoyed these interviews with Cunio. I love how he says that Tommy DeVito is layered like an onion—you love him, you hate him, etc. and how he is still learning something about playing Tommy every day.

    Comment by anna — September 30, 2009 @ 12:00 am

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