January 24, 2011

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Matt Bailey!

January 24th, 2011

By Frances Fong-Lee, JBB Special Correspondent

This is a JBB EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW first – interviewing a “Jersey Boys” cast member via Facebook chat!

I had the great pleasure to interview one of my favorite “Jersey Boys” cast members: the incredibly talented Matt Bailey, who plays Tommy DeVito in the “Jersey Boys” National Tour. He is a multi-talented actor, singer, and musician, with the kind of charm and presence to immediately draw the audience into the world of any story. Matt shares some excellent stories about what led him to become an actor in theatre; his “Jersey Boys” audition process; what it was like playing Handsome Hank and then taking over the role of Tommy DeVito; his favorites from the show; and many other surprises! ”

Frances Fong-Lee: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me, Matt. How does it feel to be part of the award-winning, critically and viewer-acclaimed hit show “Jersey Boys”?

Matt Bailey: Happy to be here. It’s truly a dream come true to be in this show. Ever since I saw the Broadway cast in previews 5 years ago, I knew it was a show I wanted to be a part of. I’m 3 years into the show and I still love doing it every night! To be in a show that’s so well received everywhere it goes is so rare. This show is just rolling, and will really go down as one of Broadway’s biggest and best shows of all time – and it is a blessing to be a part of.

FFL: I noticed that you graduated from the University of Arizona with two BFA degrees from both the Acting/Directing and Musical Theatre departments. Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?

MB: I think I always had a performing bug (I hear my parents re-counting many a-story dancing on tables, many of them ending with me falling off) – but how that bug ended up manifesting itself was kind of a surprise. It wasn’t until I was in an Acting 101 class (quite literally) in college and my teacher asked me why Acting wasn’t my major and I said “That’s a good question!” So I auditioned for an acting program, but didn’t get in! I was the “first alternate” choice. I was bummed for a few weeks, but I decided that wasn’t going to deter me – so I finished up all my GenEd courses and re-auditioned the next year – this time I got in. It was actually nice that it unravelled like it did, because when I finally got in, I was only taking theatre classes, so it became kind of like a conservatory –and it also allowed me to have the time in my schedule to graduate from both the musical theatre and the acting programs.

I always hated the stereotype that musical theatre people can’t act, and I have a huge love for Shakespeare and plays – so I majored in both. I just wanted to learn and perform in as many facets and shows as I could.

FFL: It must have been fate!

MB: Fate indeed! I guess I was always destined to end up in something in the performing arts, and I couldn’t ignore my love for music and also singing.

Also, have you directed any plays or musicals? If so, do you have any advice you can give to aspiring directors?

MB: The acting/directing degree mainly focused on acting, but we did have two semesters of directing classes, along with a stage management class, so we could learn that side of it all, and all of those things those positions are responsible for –which is a lot! I have so much respect for stage managers and directors; they have so much to take care of behind the scenes.

I did direct a one act play and some scenes in class, but that’s about it. I would like the opportunity in the future though.

What inspired you to be in the Performing Arts?

MB: I used to go to San Francisco with my parents when I was growing up – you know, HAIR, CATS, LES MIS, PHANTOM- whatever tour that was coming through that year, and so I was exposed at a young age to that form of expression, and it looked like so much fun.

I also did a lot of improv and sketch comedy in college; and doing comedy to a bunch of kids at lunchtime is like a drug – you could do and say whatever you want all in the name of entertainment. So needless to say I was getting hooked.
People ask me why I do this for a living and I always say: “it allows me to be myself without apologizing.” I heard that quote somewhere a long time ago and it has always stuck with me.

FFL: I also noticed that you were in “The Most Happy Fella” and “Cinderella” (at the Lincoln Center). Which roles did you play in those shows, respectively? What was that experience like? And what was it like performing in a less well-known show like “Bat Boy” and performing in a show like “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”?

“Cinderella” was my first big show in New York, and I was the standby for Prince Charming who was being played by Chris Sieber (who could not have been a cooler guy and mentor).

It was wild – I quit my job as the stage door security guard at Studio 54 (where I was working at that time) and all of a sudden was in a show with 50 or so people that starred a who’s who of stage and TV stars and here’s little ‘ol me being invited to the party. Just being in that amazing cast was an incredible learning experience and also a humanizing one. Working side by side with celebrities (for lack of a better word) made me realize that they are just people too, and they aren’t doing magic tricks onstage – they’re just making strong choices and doing what we all work on in acting classes.

It made me feel like a career in acting was more attainable and realistic than I had ever thought before – “I can do that!”

“Most Happy Fella” was the same thing, only this time I got to be onstage every night which was a nice change. Performing at the State Theatre for a five-tiered, 2700 seat house was amazing, and blew away anything I had done up until that point.

While “Cinderella” and “Fella” allowed me to play tiny roles in huge productions, “Bat Boy” and “Jacques Brel” allowed me to play lead roles in tiny productions. All of those shows were great to be a part of, but when I get the chance to dig my teeth into a big role like “Bat Boy” or track in “Brel”, that’s when I really love performing the most.

FFL: How did performing in these different shows help prepare you for your role in “Jersey Boys”?

MB: I think it’s important to have the responsibility of big roles under your belt (whether you’re performing in a college or in a barn). The stamina, focus, and pressures of being in a huge production are really no joke.

Having to sing at the top of my range eight times a week was tough in “Bat Boy”, or in “Brel” most of the cast was onstage for almost the entire show – that stuff can be exhausting! So it’s good to learn what your body and mind need to get through it all! For me, its sleep (nothing under 8 hours) and eating (I crash hard on an empty stomach).

FFL: What led you to audition for “Jersey Boys”? Tell us about the audition process.

MB: The first time I was called in was for Bob when they first launched the National Tour. I honestly don’t remember how many auditions that initially entailed… but whatever it was I didn’t get it obviously! I got called in for Bob again when the Vegas cast was being assembled, but was working out of town at the time and couldn’t make it back. Months later, I had a 3rd audition for Bob – no dice. A few weeks after that they called me in for just about every male character in the show – apparently a few roles were opening up. I think it was after my 7th audition that they offered me Hank on the Tour (understudying Bob and Tommy), which I was more than happy to accept! It was a perfect fit because I got to be onstage every night, and I got to cover both the roles I always wanted to play!

FFL: What was the experience like playing Hank Majewski (Handsome Hank) full-time when you first joined the National Tour, and then transitioning into playing the role of Tommy DeVito full-time, since those two are very different characters?

MB: It was great. I had never “replaced” a role before – and I certainly hadn’t learned two other roles during the day while playing a different one at night!

It was a little insane at first because they started teaching me Tommy at the same time I was learning Hank – because they needed a Tommy cover ASAP. I think I had two or three weeks to learn Tommy before I was supposed to be “ready” to go on, so me and my script became real close REAL fast. The actual transition into Tommy was less dramatic than I was expecting, because by the time I took over the role, I had done the role 75 times or so over about a year, so I was getting pretty comfortable. What was really fun was doing a whole bunch of shows in a row when I first started Tommy full-time, because all of the different choices and nuances I had learned to emulate (Deven May, Erik Bates, and Jeremy Kushnier) started to fade away as I started to find my own Tommy with our new group of Seasons. So I had all of their work to build off of and inspire me, but now I had the freedom to “play” with MY Tommy.

FFL: 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. Since there are other actors who play Tommy in other companies around the country (and around the world), they put their unique stamp on this part. What have you done to make the character your own?

MB: I don’t think I had a choice! As an actor you have no choice but to make it your own – I am of the mind that the only things you can bring to your character are the things you have inside yourself… My Tommy will never be the same as anyone else’s because as actors we are all making our own unique choices and instilling our own ideals into our roles.
Even if we are saying the same lines with the same intents, they still won’t look or sound the same.

FFL: What’s the most exciting part of playing Tommy? And what’s the most challenging?

MB: With the show being such a hit show now, we get a bit of a “prove it” attitude from our audiences, so when I come downstage after “Ces Soirees La” with Nick and Nick and no one really knows what to expect from us – I find that exciting and challenging at the same time. The audience wants us to show them why “Jersey Boys” is such a big deal, and we get to stick it to ‘em in a way, haha! The first 45 minutes are the most exciting AND challenging for me. It’s pretty much non-stop until after the “Big Three,” so keeping the pedal to the metal until intermission is the hardest part.

Another exciting thing about Tommy is just talking to the audience. At the top of the show, the audiences “know” nothing, and Tommy is the first character that starts answering all of their questions – such as “why is everyone singing in French?!”

Let’s talk about the cast – if you were going to give a one-word description of each of the “Jersey Boys” you work with (Joe, Quinn, and Steve) what would it be and why?

Joe Bwarie – Pint-sized  Joe has been called pint-sized in the newspapers in several cities so we just give him a hard time about it
Steve Gouveia – Baryshnikov  Steve is a dance machine
Quinn VanAntwerp – White  Quinn has more soul than you’d ever imagine

: Offstage, do you share any similarities with the Tommy DeVito character?

MB: We both play guitar and appreciate a good looking suit, but other than that, probably not! I’m sure in his day he loved to perform as well, so we have that going for us too.

FFL: Since you’re part of the “Jersey Boys” National Tour Company, how do you deal with the transient lifestyle of constantly being in a new city and new environment?

MB: It’s fun actually – it’s like re-opening the show every few weeks. The theatres always look and sound different everywhere we go, so that helps in keeping the show fresh onstage. It can be hard to be away from home – especially for long periods of time, but we stick together like a family and look after each other.

FFL: What is a typical show day like for you – including preparation?

MB: Well, I usually have a stack of “to-do lists” lying around so I try to cross off a lot things during the daytime, running errands and whatnot. When I’m not doing that, I read a lot and try to play as much guitar as possible.

In terms of pre-show, I have an early dinner and a coffee, and then I head in early to get my warm-up on – a light cardio warm-up for the body and vocals, of course. And at the 5 minute call, I read aloud a few quotes I have on my mirrors to warm up the Jersey dialect… And then it’s go time!

: What is it about the story and the music that makes the audience feel so connected to “Jersey Boys”?

MB: It’s basically a rags-to-riches story and I think the audience gets (quickly) won over by this group of unlikely heroes. The book is so well written and so funny, that it takes the audience by surprise from the very get-go. It moves at movie-like speed and the audience doesn’t really have a chance to tune out because there’s always something new happening. The humanity in the show is what I think really pushes this show over the top. Not only in the lyrics of the great music, but in the personal stories in the show about friendship, love and in many cases, loss: Loss of friends, loss of fame, loss of money; things that everyone can relate to.

FFL: What’s your favorite scene in the show?

MB: This always changes for me, but this week, I’m gonna go with: I love that first street scene with Frankie, just two guys hangin’ out, but with so much underlying politics.

FFL: What about your favorite musical number?

MB: I love the potency of “Beggin.” That whole scene is so well crafted.

FFL: Any favorite lines in the show?

MB: You can’t go wrong with: “Chasing the music, trying to get home.”

FFL: What sets “Jersey Boys” apart from other musicals, particularly “jukebox musicals”?

MB: It’s all in the writing. “Jersey Boys” didn’t try to take a bunch of hit songs and shape a fake story around them – they started from the opposite direction. They took a true story and wrote a play with music. Almost every song occurs “naturally” in the story as the band performs – in a club, in a bar, etc. There’s only one or two songs in which the lyrics are used to further the plot.

FFL: What makes this show, particularly this cast, so fun to work with?

MB: It’s such a fun group. A lot of us have been together for a long time on this tour and we’ve really become like a family out here, and I think that it comes through onstage how much all of us support each other. It’s also such a special show to be a part of, so when every city is going crazy for the show, that makes it fun each and every night.

FFL: What has the audience reaction been like in different cities? Say for example, Toronto, Philadelphia, and right now Boston.

MB: Across the board the audiences have gone crazy. Sometimes we have a tentative weekday matinee or something, but it’s been amazing all over the country. Sometimes we can hear the audience better in some cities (particularly when the theaters are smaller or don’t have a high ceiling) but I have yet to play a city that didn’t love the show.

FFL: Why do you think people keep coming back to see “Jersey Boys”?

MB: It’s a feel good show. Whether you grew up with the music or not, it’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s about things everyone can relate to in one way or another – friendships, relationships, family, money problems, etc. It’s a wonderful rags-to-riches story, but at the same time it embraces the turmoil of real life – it’s not all “roses & balloons” as Joe Leo Bwarie might say…

FFL: Since joining the “Jersey Boys” National Tour Company, have you learned anything about yourself that you didn’t know before?

MB: I’ve certainly learned how to take care of myself. This show roughs me up 8 times a week, and unless I get enough sleep and vocal rest it can be really tough. It’s the hardest role I’ve ever played, and also the most fun I’ve ever had onstage – an exhausting combination.

FFL: Do you have any advice for actors who would like to play Tommy DeVito or any of the other Four Seasons’ members?

MB: Study, study, study. You really have to be a strong all around performer to shine in this show. Act, sing, dance, act, play an instrument, learn your Jersey dialect, then act some more.

FFL: Last question to conclude the interview: Do you have a particular story or funny anecdote that has happened either on or offstage, that you would like to share with the Jersey Boys Blog readers?

MB: There is the infamous “Welcome to Detroit” story… Once upon a time when the tour was playing Detroit, Barry Belson (John Edwards) entered as the cop at the top of Act 2 and instead of saying “welcome to Cleveland” he said “welcome to Detroit.” So we’re doing our scene and I’m thinking…“I’m gonna have to change some lines here”…

So John says “you’re not offering me a bribe are ya?” to which I respond “Sorry, forgot we were in MICHIGAN” – to which I’m thinking “Success! I’m out of the woods!”…NOPE. We finish that scene and transition into the jail scene where we’re all sitting on the toilets and I realize – oh man… I have to sing the O-HI-O song still! Unfortunately I have most of the lines in the toilet scene, so I didn’t exactly have a lot of time to think of something clever. So we reach the moment of truth and I start the song “Oh Me Oh Me Oh Mi Oh…” (which for some reason I sang REALLY high in my falsetto, then had to drop way down in my voice just to sing the rest of the song) “Did some time in JAIL.” which didn’t rhyme, nor sounded very good. I think I changed keys like 3 times in the middle of the song. Needless to say the next scene was hard to get through as I could hear every single person backstage laughing their heads off. Hilarious.


  1. Excellent interview! Very well done, Frances. I absolutely adore Matt Bailey. Not only is he a fantastic actor and singer, but he’s also incredibly nice, and I love his sense of humor.

    Oh, and that Detroit story is great!!

    Comment by Shelley — January 25, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  2. Great interview, Frances!

    Comment by Pamela — January 25, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

  3. Frances, Thanks for a terrific interview with Matt Bailey. My family and I have managed to meet most of the cast during this past month in Boston; however, I’m so tongue-tied that I just keep telling them how wonderful they are. I learned a lot from your interview.

    Meeting Matt Bailey, I was touched by his warmth and an ability he has that makes you feel that you’re the only person in the vicinity.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Cathy — January 27, 2011 @ 7:19 pm


    Comment by VAN JACKSON — July 8, 2011 @ 8:25 am

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