August 29, 2009

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Toronto Cast Member Daniel Robert Sullivan!

August 29th, 2009

One of the newest members of the JERSEY BOYS Toronto cast is Daniel Robert Sullivan, who began playing the Tommy DeVito role in June! It’s our pleasure to present our recent JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview with Daniel, who reflects on what it’s been like to be part of this amazing JB cast, the production’s first anniversary celebration, what has inspired him as a performer over the years, his JB audition process, and some incredible stories from the stage!

JBB: Happy Anniversary to you & your JERSEY BOYS Toronto castmates, Daniel! As one of the newest cast members, how does it feel to be a part of an award-winning hit show?

Daniel Robert Sullivan: This is an impossible question to answer with words. Think about a dream you have had since you were a little kid. Then think about living that dream every day…sometimes twice a day. That’s how it feels.

JBB: How did you and your castmates celebrate this big anniversary?

DRS: We celebrated with rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, pizza, and risotto, in that order! Three weeks out from the anniversary, we had a visit from our choreographer, and hours of rehearsal to incorporate his notes and adjustments. Two weeks out, we had a visit from our director, with accompanying notes and rehearsal. One week out, it was our musical director! (You see why the show is so tight? Constant fine-tuning is a given with Jersey Boys.)

When the one-year anniversary performance finally arrived, we were treated to a very large pizza party after the show, where Bob Gaudio, Rick Elice, and more than a hundred cast, crew, and families could be seen grabbing slices. Our Gyp DeCarlo [Timothy Sell] even went back to the kitchen to make his own pizza. The next day, the five Seasons in our cast were treated to an amazing lunch by Bob Gaudio and his wife, Judy. Nearly everyone at the table ordered the risotto special. I think I am safe speaking for the other guys when I say that this lunch was the absolute highlight of the festivities. To hear Bob talk about working on Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer,” and to hear Judy tell how she woke up at 3:00 AM to re-write the lyrics to “Oh, What A Night” on the eve of its recording session…this lunch was one to remember forever.

JBB: Wow, Daniel–what a celebration!

We’d like to find out about how it all began for you and how you got started in musical theatre and what inspired you?

DRS: I have been waiting all my life to answer this question. Sure, I have been working in musical theatre for many years, but never in an important enough show or role that anyone cared to ask me about my initial inspirations. So, I shall now give credit where credit is due…

There are three teachers that I credit with helping me get started and offering me a lifetime’s worth of inspiration. In fifth grade, that teacher was Patricia King, who offered me a role in my very first musical. I played Colonel Cuddly, a very cute tin soldier in a Christmas show. I still remember my first lines; ask me to recite them at the stage door sometime! Mrs. King taught me to love theatre and music because she brought both into the classroom every day.

In high school, that teacher was David Dilullo. I can never thank this man enough. He gave me confidence, literally molding me into a secure person while we worked together on every high school musical. He introduced me to a wealth of material, began to teach me about the professional theatre world, and encouraged a creative environment in which my very best friendships were formed.

In college, Judith Swift was the teacher that whipped me into shape. If I had some generalized talent before, she was the one that made it specific and that forced incredible commitment. Her lessons are the ones that stick: “If you’re not ten minutes early to rehearsal, you are late,” “Real work cannot begin until you are off-book,” and most important for Jersey Boys, “Your intentions must be clear and specific, especially in the short scenes you are given in musicals.”

More than anyone else, these three teachers inspired a love of, and dedication to, a life in the theatre.

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.

DRS: Great story, actually. I had seen the show and knew there were a couple of places I might fit in, so I went to a Chorus Call. (Many readers probably know this already, but a Chorus Call is sort of like the old-fashioned “cattle call.” It is an audition that the producers of a musical are required to hold every six months, whether or not they are actively looking for somebody. These calls are often the only way for an average actor to be seen for certain shows.) At the Chorus Call, I sang, was asked about my guitar playing, and was sent on my way.

Within the next two weeks, the producers put out breakdowns saying they were currently looking for someone to play Norm and understudy Bob on the tour. My agent jumped on this and, before I knew it, I had been through four callbacks and was standing outside the door waiting to meet Des McAnuff. Des was incredibly nice, but I am told that he took one look at me and realized that I was not going to be understudying Bob anywhere. (Too old? Not innocent enough? Not tall enough?) My friend Buck [Hujabre] got the part that day, and has been rockin’ in it ever since. I, on the other hand, was asked to look over the Tommy material and told that, someday, I would get a call to come back in again. Sure enough, with my agent reminding the casting director, and the casting director being very supportive, I was asked to come back many times…a total of thirteen times to be precise.

I worked hard with the dialect CD I was given, I studied all the choreography I could find online (and practiced it in my bedroom, much to my wife’s amusement), and memorized every syllable of the scenes I was given. Even with that, though, some of those callbacks ended with a tinge of sadness when I was passed over. (Yes, I admit it, I was definitely passed over a couple of times when they were actually looking to hire someone. But each time I was passed over, I vowed to work harder next time.) When my time finally came, it came quickly.

JBB: As the new Tommy DeVito, what did you do to prepare for the part? Did any of the former Tommys or your fellow castmates provide you with any advice?

DRS: Preparing for this part was a crazy, wonderful adventure. Let us begin with the fact that it all happened rather quickly; within just a few days I was singing in front of Frankie Valli himself, deciding to move to Toronto, and beginning rehearsals for the hardest part I’ve ever had to learn. I had a couple of days before they would give me a script, so the first thing I did after accepting the role was go out to buy the Jersey Boys coffee table book and begin memorizing lines from it! (Any true fan will know, however, that many of the juiciest bits are purposefully left out of this book. I would discover this much later.)

DRS: I then spent three days in New York doing costume fittings, music rehearsal, choreography rehearsal, scene work, dialect work, and learning the scene-by-scene dramaturgy. All of this was fascinating and fast. The company then flew me to Toronto to watch the show three times, get a feel for what Jeremy Kushnier was doing with the role (talk about filling big shoes!) and meet my fellow cast members. Then I was flown down to Orlando to meet up with the National Tour and spend two weeks learning all the rest of the choreography and staging. That’s right, I was on an all-expenses paid trip to Orlando, staying right across the street from Disneyworld, and I didn’t even see Mickey Mouse once. I spent all my time learning in a rented rehearsal studio, rehearsing in my hotel room (which I re-arranged to turn into a mini-rehearsal studio), and watching every performance of the show. I am eternally grateful for the amount of the time the dance captain, the PSM, and the understudies/swings on the tour gave me. For two weeks they worked very long hours to teach me the show, and I wasn’t even a member of their company. This demonstrates the sense of family that Jersey Boys has created and continues to nurture. Finally, I arrived in Toronto having learned most of the show, and was given abut ten days to settle in, learn the differences between the companies, and begin working with my ‘real’ castmates. I was reunited in Toronto with the directing/choreographing team I had first worked with in New York, was given one “put-in” rehearsal with everyone in full costume, and began running the show.

As for advice from other Tommys, both Matt Bailey and Jeremy Kushnier made themselves completely open to every question I had, but I learned most from watching them, and others, in the role. Frankly, a lot of what they did I just had to absorb. What could I have asked them? Um, how do you act so charming and mean at the same time? How do you make your dance moves look so cool? How do you say those long lines in one breath? I have seen Christian Hoff play Tommy twice, Dominic Nolfi three times, Matt Bailey and Jeremy Kushnier about sixteen times apiece. Not a bad set to learn from, huh? I bet you’ll see pieces of all of them in what I do.

JBB: What’s the most exciting and the most challenging part of playing Tommy thus far?

DRS: The most exciting thing, without a doubt, is the moment during the curtain call when I can finally ‘break’ the Tommy attitude for a bit and just look at the standing, cheering crowd. That crowd is always on its feet, and I am sure it is like that in every Jersey Boys company throughout the world. And I know it is not us that gets them there! It is the relentless push of the show, investing every audience member in the drama, the heartbreak, and the success of these four real guys from down the street. By the time the curtain call arrives, it is like they are looking for an excuse to stand up and shout. I’ll never tire of watching that.

The most challenging parts so far have been physical and mental. The physical challenge is to my knees (stomping!), my voice (yelling!), my guitar playing fingers (aggressive playing!), and my hydration level (sweating!). So, like every actor in the show, I am overly conscious about getting my sleep, warming up, and staying healthy. Mentally, I guess I can be frank and tell you that I am challenged by the typical actor-problem of having a dream job that is 500 miles away from home. Thank goodness I have an extremely supportive wife and proud kids! We’ve made it work, and the simple truth is that I couldn’t do it without them.

JBB: What’s been the funniest or most surprising thing that’s happened backstage, on stage, or in the audience since joining JB that you can share with us?

DRS: Oh, boy. There is always something! Here are some fun bits from the last few weeks… After Bob Crewe said, “Play the f—ing song already!” the other day, someone in the house yelled, “Stop swearrrrring!” Last week, I said to the police officer in Act 2, “Sorry, I forgot we were from Ohio,” instead of in Ohio. For the next few days, people joked about changing the name of the show to Ohio Boys. To make matters worse, in the very next scene, while sitting on the toilet, I realized that my fly was down. That meant it had been down for the whole act up until that point. Not cool!

JBB: So, Daniel, as Jersey Boys celebrates its first anniversary in Toronto, in your opinion, what is it about Jersey Boys that makes the audience feel so connected?

DRS: I can only answer for myself, of course, but what connects me to the story is the absolute determination and work ethic of Frankie, Tommy, Nick, and Bobby. This story shows us that these guys received no lucky breaks, they worked hard for what they achieved. They auditioned, and failed. They recorded, and flopped. They went on the road, and were sent back home. But they persevered! That is what I relate to. These guys had a dream and they pursued it relentlessly. Nobody handed them anything. The story of the Four Seasons demonstrates that you really can achieve your dreams if you work hard for them. I believe in that sentiment. Hell, I’m living it right now.


  1. Thank you for this interview with Daniel Sullivan. I’ve been so curious about him since seeing him in Toronto. He’s a fantastic Tommy DeVito.

    Comment by Karen — August 29, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  2. Great interview with the new Tommy. Hope you guys do more with the T.O. cast.

    Comment by Dave — August 29, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

  3. What a great in-depth interview with an actor who obviously loves his work! He seems so appreciative of the people who came before him and helped him to his goal. I love how he colorfully describes the journey to Jersey Boys and the fantastic support he received once he arrived. I never knew how much preparation goes in to finally getting that dream role. I also love discovering those little behind-the-scenes tidbits about the theater biz like the mandatory 6 month “chorus call.” Daniel really makes for a great Tommy with all the charm, menace and humor that the role calls for. He rocked the house when I saw it. Wishing you continued success, Dan!

    Comment by Gary — August 29, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  4. We visited Toronto in the beginning of August & saw the incredible performance of Jersey Boys. Daniel was fantastic! The interview shows his enthusiasm & love of the theatre. Best wishes to a great guy!

    Comment by Judy Green — August 30, 2009 @ 5:56 am

  5. What a beautiful interview with a beautiful person! You can feel the warmth, gratitude, and joy oozing off the screen.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 31, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  6. Met Daniel at the Jersey Boys “Run for the Cure” live performance at Nathan Phillips square yesterday morning. We talked about theatre and the show in particular. He noticed my grandaughter was wearing a “Big Girls Don’t Cry” T Shirt. Very warm, unpretentious and thrilled to be meeting people who appreciate musical theatre. My grandaughter has a speech articulation delay and has learned to speak by singing musical numbers. Always stay the way you are.

    Comment by Julie Wod — October 5, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

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