August 27, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Former Universal Female Swing Cast Member Michelle Knight!

August 27th, 2009

Michelle Knight
Michelle Knight

During our fabulous Chicago trip last month, we were delighted to interview Michelle Knight, JERSEY BOYS universal female swing, who was in the Windy City playing a variety of roles in JB! Michelle talked about her unique responsibilities as the universal female swing cast member, what inspired her to follow her musical dreams, some wild stories from the JB stage, and more!

JBB: Great to meet you, Michelle! You have a very unique position in Jersey Boys as the universal female swing. Do you play every single female role and go everywhere?

Michelle Knight: Everywhere they need me, which is everywhere right now.

I’m based with the New York company, so I check with the Broadway company every night that I’m not needed elsewhere and I’m usually needed elsewhere (chuckles). I do A LOT of traveling.

JBB: So, playing with every company out there, could you say what makes each company unique?

MK: Oh my word, they’re all unique. Well, especially for me, because all of the tracks are different, there are different blocking and choreography changes for every company, so there’s a lot of information running around in my head. The Vegas company is different, obviously, because it’s shorter, so these are real things I need to remember.

JBB Tech Half: What do you mean by ‘blocking’?

MK: Oh, blocking. It’s staging. When we get our scripts, we’re told basically where to stand. You try to remember those track patterns, so nobody runs into anyone else. Especially with our set pieces that run on and off so fast, you could really be taken out quickly (chuckles).

JBB Tech Half: Look out for the bowling ball! (laughs)!

MK: Exactly. The bowling ball is the least of your worries. It’s when the trap comes up, or when the turtle comes across.

JBB Tech Half: The turtle?

MK: The turtle is what we call the platform that carries the drum kit.

JBB: I think we heard in Vegas that the change is so quick, that Erich Bergen unzips one of the Jersey Girl’s dresses right in the car.

MK: Actually, this quick change happens in every company. Sure enough, in the car, after the Angels scene, the dress is unzipped, then I kick off my shoes, and pull out a wig pin or two, because that change is like 12 seconds…so fast.

JBB: I remember seeing you once as Mary in Vegas. You were so great and feisty as the Vegas Mary!

MK: Thanks! Mary’s my favorite. Everyone can identify with someone who’s been scorned and she gets like 30 seconds to tell someone what she really thinks!

JBB: So, what sparked your interest in acting and musical theatre?

MK: Oh Gosh, you know I was a choir kid, so I knew I loved to sing, but I didn’t understand much about drama. I wasn’t ever inspired to go to the drama classes in high school. So, I went to college to be an opera major, but I found it entirely boring. It didn’t really fit my needs as far as performance was concerned.

Then, I met a boy who was in musical theatre and was having way more fun than I was. So, I followed him into the musical theatre program. He and I didn’t last (chuckles), but the career did. Go figure. It turned out to be exactly what I needed.

JBB: How did it go from there to Jersey Boys?

MK: You know, I had done a couple actual tours and I was working in Orlando, opening a show at Walt Disney World, written by the Avenue Q folk, called Finding Nemo: The Musical. We were performing there, and then randomly, the Jersey Boys folk had an audition in Miami. So, six of us jumped in the car and drove down to Miami. Graham Fenton was one of the ones who drove down with me.

There were like 20 people at the audition. We were expecting hundreds of people to come out for this audition, and there were just a few of us. Graham and I read together as Mary and Frankie. And look where we both are now!

JBB: So you and Graham are old buddies?

MK: His wife and I worked together in Finding Nemo and Graham was there. I think he was serving tables at the Rain Forest Café. We just knew he had this amazing voice and he hadn’t really found his performance opportunity yet, but as soon as he walked into that room, he was perfect, spot on! They loved him—obviously!

JBB: We get lots of comments on the blog about how great Graham is as Frankie!

MK: He is a wonderful, kind human being. In a business where you could run across some people that are really into themselves…we foster some of those people (laughs), but he is a unique, kind, wonderful person.

JBB: What about the challenges and rewards of being the universal female swing?

MK: The challenges are just keeping it straight, just reminding myself every day, when I’ve traveled to a new city, reminding myself what the differences are within that company without anybody having to remind me. I have to keep very detailed notes.

The benefits? Man, I get to play with all of these people! Nobody else can say that they have worked with every single company on stage, other than the creative team, of course.

When I was watching the Tonys, I looked at all those boys and I said, ‘I’ve kissed every single one of those boys and that’s a benefit (chuckles), and I get to pull things from other people.

JBB Tech Half: Well, which one is the best kisser?

MK: I think Jarrod would kick me if I didn’t say him! So, Jarrod Spector, Jarrod Spector, Jarrod Spector!

JBB: Is that for publication?

MK: Absolutely! Jarrod Spector, Jarrod Spector–I’m sorry for everyone else…(laughs)

JBB: What about your favorite scene?

MK: You know what my favorite is to do? My favorite is to be Frankie Nolan—to go out there and sing as poorly as I possibly can and try to make the boys laugh. That’s my goal for the evening! That’s my favorite! It’s so simple. Everything else can be technical, but that’s a moment where I can just be funny.

JBB: How about favorite line?

MK: Because “y” is a bullshit letter. It doesn’t know what it is.

JBB: What about your favorite song in the show?

MK: My favorite song in the show is “Beggin’.” I love the men’s cross up and over. I think it’s such a beautiful, well-played moment, when we wipe the stage clean, and the men as a line walk into Gyp’s basement, into this really intense moment. I think it’s beautifully staged and the boys sing the poop out of it. (laughs)

JBB Tech Half: And how ‘bout it becoming it a new smash it?

MK: Right! I hear it on the radio all the time and these commercials! Good Lord, they got to be making bank! The Four Seasons follow me around now–in airports, on TV—it’s crazy!

JBB: You probably have traveling down to a science. As the universal female swing, are you a travel genius?

MK: I got the travel down pretty well, I think. The packing has been a little difficult. Going to New York in May, which was a little chilly to Las Vegas. I always find myself saying, ‘Gosh I wish I had an extra something,’ so I shop a lot, but other than that, I’ve gotten adept at leaving some specific things that I need in each company’s dressing room wherever I can find a little space, like my notes, so I don’t have to constantly travel with those.

I used to have the ‘Fly Clear’ program, which was really good, until it went bankrupt last week. You could skip the security lines and they had your entire ID in one microchip and you could skip the two-hour line at JFK. But, now, I don’t get to do that anymore—I’m stuck in the line with everybody else (chuckles).

JBB Tech Half: Is there a male counterpart to your universal female swing?

MK: No, just me. They’ve got so many gentlemen on stage that could fill in during an emergency situation. The two-girl show is fun, but you couldn’t do a one-girl show! Absolutely impossible!

JBB: I read where you played two girls in one show. What happened and who did you play that night?

MK: In Vegas, I was Mary and Lorraine, so I got to break up with Frankie twice in 30 seconds–it was great! The look on Travis’ face was really funny, because I just told him off, and then literally, right back in as Lorraine (laughs)!

JBB Tech Half: Bet Travis was thinking, ‘You look a lot like my first wife!’ (chuckles)

JBB: You’ve done so much with this show! What have you discovered about yourself since becoming the universal female swing in Jersey Boys?

MK: Oh, wow! What have I discovered about myself? You know what? I’ve discovered that I can retain a lot more information than I think I can. Muscle memory is a blessing, but I’ve realized that honestly, I can trust my instincts as far as what I’m supposed to do next. That was a big one. There’s a lot of fear going into something like this when you’re thrown on in 20 seconds and when I just flew in, and I was just doing the show with the half an hour cut.

So, I’ve got a good amount of trust in myself. And, you know what I’ve learned? That this is a job like any other. I have to continually work on it to stay in it and motivated and keep my game up with the people that are doing this version of the show every night.

All the best to Michelle Knight in her future endeavors!


  1. Wow! This is a fantastic, in-depth interview. LOVE this girl. I think she’s just great…so talented and a really up-beat personality. I don’t understand the “former” universal swing title. Does that mean she has left the show or is she now in a permanent role? I’ll be sad if she’s gone for good :-(

    Comment by Gary — August 27, 2009 @ 10:18 am

  2. Hi, Gary: Dunno if she’ll be back to JB, but right now she’s returning to Orlando.

    Comment by Leanna — August 27, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

  3. Another great interview! So interesting to find out about what it takes to be a universal swing. Michelle’s response regarding which Frankie is the best kisser was hilarious!

    Comment by TeresaJ — August 27, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

  4. I agree with Gary. What a talented actress and such a great sense of humor. It’s been a lot of fun to learn more about so many cast members this summer.


    Comment by PG — August 28, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

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