Entertainment Music

24 Minutes with Jonny Wexler

By Joe Leary

Jonny Wexler. (Supplied)

Jonny Wexler. (Supplied)

A multi-talented musical force, Jonny Wexler takes on the challenging and iconic role of Frankie Valli in the award-winning production of Jersey Boys, playing Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre November 14-19. Wexler spent 24 Minutes with Joe Leary.

The role of Frankie Valli is challenging as his range is incredible. What was your initial connection to the Four Seasons and what kind of preps did you go through to nail his vocal styling?

My initial connection to the Four Seasons was actually seeing the original Broadway cast about a week after they had won their four Tony Awards. It was an absolutely electric experience and I was forever hooked on the music. Never in my wildest dreams though did I think I would be given the opportunity to step into Mr. Valli’s shoes. As far as preparation, I went through the same “Frankie Camp” that most Frankie’s go through, as well as extensive rehearsals with much of the original artistic team. The vocal range is undoubtedly quite large and brings with it a specific tone quality at times but you eventually find how your voice is going to uniquely respond and work in this way mostly through trial and error. These days my daily singing and weekly singing lessons are mostly dedicated to a more therapeutic, economic approach, working on freeing my natural voice without overly engaging or straining anything. It actually stands in stark contrast to the show but is infinitely beneficial and necessary with the workload this role asks of you.

Jersey Boys pays homage to a great era in music. As Frankie are you bringing your own take to the role?

The range and arc of Frankie’s life in Jersey Boys is absolutely massive. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours he ages from 16 to 71, sells 100 million records, gets married, gets divorced, has children, tragically loses a child, goes from the streets of Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and creates and forms bonds and friendships with people that both last a lifetime and re-define music forever. In that way, I think of the role within the context of some of the greatest and largest roles in the English-speaking language like Hamlet or Rosalind or Jack Tanner. Since the depth and journey of this human experience is so great and unique, I believe the role really demands that the actor go through these experiences for themselves first, through the lens of their own life. Once this truth has been found, then specific attributes - be they physical or otherwise - that mirror the real man can be added, otherwise I worry about ending up with a performance that "plays at" someone or something as opposed to living and breathing in the present. In that way, I do bring my own take to the role, like every Frankie before me, as our individual journeys and lives are unique unto ourselves.

You were a Doodlebop and a fixture on kids TV. What was the makeup preparation like for that gig?

I was a Doodlebop for quite some time and the makeup preparation was quite intensive. It definitely stands in stark contrast to Jersey Boys where I wear no makeup. However, performing with the Doodlebops gave me early experience with both performing in a rock show, which Jersey Boys is at times and also the rigors of an intense touring schedule. I am forever grateful for the experiences the Doodlebops provided me at the time and the ones made possible after the conclusion of the show.

Away from the stage what do you immerse yourself in? Are you generally a music freak with varied tastes?

I am “generally a music freak with varied tastes.” I truly listen to everything from hip-hop to bluegrass to EDM to jazz and everything in between. I am a live music fanatic and have seen hundreds of bands and artists, sometimes dozens of times!! I am also addicted to working out and dancing.

How much does the cast feed off an audience? If the audience is pretty reserved (they suck) does it become your mandate to bring them to life?

The story, song and transition construction of Jersey Boys is truly unparalleled and stands as a genre defining example of American Musical Theatre. Right from the first moment the show captures the audience and never lets them go. While at times this is done with certain literary devices and at other times it’s done with controlling an audience's focus, the show is like a runaway bullet train, both for those watching and at times for those performing in it. One of the greatest gifts of getting to perform in a show like this is the positive response from audiences all across the continent. You see people reliving memories of their youth or connections they have to this music, while at the same time going through this improbable journey with these four young men from the bottom to the top to the bottom and to the top again. For many people in attendance, these songs were the soundtrack to their lives.