Jonny Wexler reflects on his lead role as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys
In 2005, a jukebox musical called Jersey Boys about the rise and fall of 1960s rock band The Four Seasons hit Broadway and nothing was ever the same. The musical went on to win four Tony Awards and a Grammy for best musical and since then it has become one of North America’s most popularized music stories.
The story and production touched many people, including Canadian actor Jonny Wexler, who now plays lead singer Frankie Valli in the current run of the musical.
“I saw the show a week after it won all the Tonys in New York and I was blown away by the production,” Wexler says. “I didn’t have the foresight to look 12 years down the road and think ‘Oh yeah, I should do that,’ but here we are.”
Wexler landed a role in Jersey Boys after meeting its creators at the La Jolla Playhouse theatre. For three seasons of the production he played the role of Joe Pesci (Goodfellas), a friend of The Four Seasons who helped with the initial formation of the band.
“I was Joe Pesci, but I also understudied Frankie so if he was sick, I would go on for him,” Wexler says.
Now, Wexler plays Frankie Valli, a role that he has found personal comfort and pride in.
“The scope and the size of the role is kind of insane,” Wexler says. “In the course of three hours, he ages from like 16 to 70. He gets married, gets divorced, has children, tragically has a child die. He fights with his best friends, sells 100 million records, and then travels all over the world and they get into the hall of fame.”
Valli is also known for having one of the most unique voices in the business, being able to hit some of the highest falsettos ever imagined.
“My voice had the facility for the range and the tonal quality, but the thing I needed to work on was the sheer size of material you would be singing every night,” Wexler says. “It’s like 33 songs so I needed to work on my stamina and vocal strength to make sure I still had some left in the tank.”
Before Wexler plays Valli, he takes the experiences of the singer and applies them to aspects of his own life to get into character.
“I take a minute to check in with myself before every performance,” he says. “I try to make myself available to allow those experiences to happen truthfully and naturally and also look at the lens of who I am and what my life is.”
Jersey Boys is told in a documentary-style formatted in “seasons,” where each member of the band narrates his perspective on the legacy and history of the group while playing the hits.
“The show is kind of an augmented reality of who The Four Seasons were,” Wexler says. “These four guys came from the wrong side of the tracks and had this improbable meteoric ride from the bottom to the top of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Wexler has had many roles in musical productions before, but perhaps his most unique was playing Moe Doodle in the Canadian television show The Doodlebops. The characters were members of a children’s band and would take part in humourous, and sometimes ludicrous activities to teach children social lessons. In some ways, Wexler’s role prepared him for Jersey Boys.
“That was a wild ride,” Wexler says. “We made all these TV episodes and went on tour for like, three years all around the world. In some ways, it’s very similar to what we’re doing on Jersey Boys. It was kind of like a rock show, just like this.”
Fri., Nov. 10 – Sun., Nov. 12
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium