July 27, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Jersey Boys Chicago Cast Member John Michael Coppola!

July 27th, 2009

John Michael Coppola
John Michael Coppola

Prior to the Sunday JERSEY BOYS Chicago performance on July 12, we had the marvelous opportunity to interview swing cast member John Michael Coppola, who covers four roles in the show: Frankie Valli, Barry Belson (and others), Joe Pesci (and others), and Hank Majewski (and others). John talks about his early days in musical theatre, his amazing journey in JB, and more!

JBB: Great to meet you, John! We really loved your performances early this week as the French rapper, Barry Belson, the officer, and all of the other roles! You were fantastic!

JMC: Thank you! I really appreciate that so much! Rashad [Naylor] is a hard act to follow.

JBB: Tell us about your beginnings in musical theatre and your influences.

JMC: Well, I come from a very artistic household. My mother runs an opera company in New Rochelle, New York, where I grew up. She’s coming up on her 30th anniversary. My dad did theatre in high school and college, and he also still does community theatre. He mainly directs now, not as much acting anymore.

I actually have a twin brother, who is now on the business side of the business. He works for SPOTCo in New York; they do a lot of advertising for the big shows. My sisters did theatre all through high school, too, but not professionally. My brother did it professionally for awhile, but he now directs and choreographs in the tri-state community theatre circuit.

Community theatre in Westchester County, where I grew up, is very big! It’s a huge support system. They’ve got great budgets and people who were former professionals that now do it for fun. It’s its own family.

I really learned everything I know about performing by performing for the last 29 years.

JBB: So, you started when you were a really little kid?

JMC: I was six years old. My brother and I both did a community theatre production of Oklahoma. My dad was also in the show, so that made it easy for us to get to and from.

Two summers later, we did a production of Oliver and a production of Bye, Bye Birdie for two different theatre companies. I played Oliver in the first production and my brother played Randolph in Birdie, and we understudied each other, (at my parents suggestion, I’m sure, just to keep it fair. With twins, you need to keep the scale balanced).

So, a lot of community theatre growing up and then summer theatre most of my teenage years.

When I was about 17, I had an opportunity to do a children’s theatre show at Westchester Broadway Theatre, a very well-regarded dinner theatre in Westchester. It was an Equity house and they also have this children’s theatre that they do three of four times a year.

A gentleman (by the name of Bob Fitzsimmons), who was a director in community theatre and PR man for the dinner theatre, also wrote and directed children’s theatre. He was one of the people that I learned a lot from. After working with me in a summer show, he said, ‘Hey, I’m writing this new kids’ show and I think you’d be great to play the pumpkin.’
There are many inanimate objects in children’s theatre, so my first professional gig was as a pumpkin (chuckled).

JBB: Was it always acting for you, or did you think about other careers while growing up?

JMC: I thought about going into other occupations. My grandfather was an auto mechanic, so I was interested in that and I also thought about becoming a chef, but theatre was always the one thing I had a passion for and that I enjoyed doing, and was fairly good at.

My parents were huge supporters of me and my brother. I’m going on my fifteenth year of doing it professionally, and actually I met my wife doing a show—so it’s come with some nice fringe benefits.

JBB: From what we read on your Playbill, you have a new baby, too?

JMC: I actually have to update my Playbill—my son is three years old now (chuckled).

JBB: Does he have acting musical theatre aspirations?

JMC: He watches the requisite amount of TV and he picks up all the songs. I’ve been singing ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ when he was still in the womb, so he knows that song really well. He’s got a very good ear for music and for phrasing. So, he’s definitely got a musical ability. If that’s what he wants to do, we’d be thrilled.
I just had some new headshots done several months ago, and my wife and I decided to have him sit down for some shots. He does officially have headshots and officially has an agent, so we’re going to hopefully get his college education out of it (chuckled).
We’re not going to push him, but he follows directions really well, and he loves being in front of the camera.

JBB: So, what led you to audition for Jersey Boys? Did your agent say, ‘This is the perfect show for you?’ Tell us about your audition process.

JMC: All totaled, I auditioned five different times for the show, for each company except La Jolla.

Before my last go around, I was asked to go to the very first ‘Frankie Camp,’ which proved very valuable. My final callback was surreal (all those people, Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio in the back of the room!). I was asked to come back the next day to dance and was also given different sides to learn. A few days later, I found out that I booked the second national tour, which was possibly going to sit down in Chicago. Since I have a wife, child, and dog, the idea of a (possible) sit down was certainly attractive.

I’ve since realized that everything happens for a reason. We’ve made some wonderful friends here and my wife’s got family here, who we get to see a lot. That would not have been possible if I were on the tour, so this was the company I was supposed to start my ‘Jersey Boys’ journey with. It was fate!

JBB: What are the most exciting parts of being a swing cast member? What about the challenges?

JMC: What’s exciting are the times you find out you’re on at the last minute! That has happened only a handful of times (for me most recently, as Frankie…I found about that one out at half hour before curtain).

Over two years into the run now though, it’s a no-brainer to jump out there and do any one of the four roles I cover.

The challenges of the job are many, but the main one is being a reliable teammate for your fellow actors and being able to ‘keep the ball in the air’. There are certain choices some actors my feel compelled to make when doing (a particular) role ‘their way’, but your main function as an understudy is to keep the well-oiled machine moving. It’s part of the job that some find frustrating, but I actually enjoy it. I feel that there are many ways to play a directed moment and make them seem organic and thus, making them your own.

JBB: You play so many roles in Jersey Boys. Do you have a favorite role that you play & why?

JMC: There’s a least one individual moment I enjoy for each character I play, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that playing Frankie is my favorite, for all of the obvious reasons. The amazing journey he takes, the fantastic songs he gets to sing, not to mention the response the audience gives after ‘Can’t Take’. They’re rooting for him the whole show and he gets his solo turn! It makes Frankie truly a pleasure to portray.

JBB: What about your favorites in the show? Your favorite musical number & why?

JMC: When I’m in the audience: “Cry For Me,” because we’re watching history being formed right in front of our eyes.

When I’m in the show: “Can’t Take” (for the reasons I mentioned in my answer to the last question).

JBB: Your favorite scene & why?

JMC: When I’m in the audience: The scene in the car when Donnie and Stosh con Frankie with the gunshot. The idea of it is simply hilarious and the audience always gives it a great reaction.

When I’m in the show: The scene in Act 2 after ‘Beggin’ (known as ‘the sit down’, in Gyp’s basement). It’s such a ‘guy’s scene’ and there’s so much great energy being thrown around at each other that it’s such a rush to do.

JBB: How about your favorite line & why?

JMC: All of them! Seriously, without them I’d be unemployed…

JBB: What have you discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before being a member of the Jersey Boys cast?

JMC: I’ve learned a lot of things both professionally and personally. But mostly how much this show affects those who come, especially the grown men. To see them in the audience with tears in their eyes at the end because they’ve just been sent down memory lane and knowing that you drove them there is an amazing feeling. You can’t help but be moved by it every time.


  1. So glad to see more coverage on the blog of the Chicago cast! Loved finding out more about John Michael Coppola–he’s so talented!

    Will you guys be doing more interviews with the Chicago cast? I hope so.

    Comment by Beth — July 27, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  2. This was a great interview with a lot of detail about John Michael Coppola. I really love reading about young actors following their theater dreams.

    Comment by Teresa J — July 27, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

  3. Glad you both liked the interview! Beth, there will be quite a few Chicago interviews appearing on the blog soon.

    Comment by Susie — July 27, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

  4. Great interview! I’ve seen the Chicago production twice and looking forward to seeing it again soon.

    Comment by Paul — July 28, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  5. JMC is a great guy and an AMAZING Frankie. Thanks for doing the interview!

    Comment by Leanna — July 28, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  6. Loved the interview! Johnie Coppola ROCKS!

    Comment by Kai — July 29, 2009 @ 12:23 am

  7. I saw the show today with my older sis. We were born in 1962 and 1956. We can both remember the songs (for me, my whole lifetime) and just loved the performances. Coppola and the other cast members have so much energy. The scenery changes were awesome and so creative! Great show about a great American band.

    Comment by Betty — August 26, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

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