Great music, great dance numbers, a rags-to-riches story line and recipient of numerous awards ... What's not to love about Jersey Boys which opens June 6 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center? Crowd appeasement aside, one actor tells about the sheer joy of being part of a show that is so grand in scope that it's part musical, part rock concert.
"Every night I get to be in a band that comes from nothing and hits it big," said actor John Gardiner. "To tell that true story, night after night, while playing a rock concert ... It just doesn't get any better than that."
Gardiner plays Tommy DeVito and has had the opportunity to not only travel with this show, but the chance to meet several key members of the original group the show is written about, including a very special dinner in Nashville.
"We actually don't need to discuss this as a 'what if' because I had the good fortune of hanging out with a couple of them over the years," Gardiner said. "For example, Bob Gaudio, the songwriter of the group, took our whole cast out to dinner when we played Nashville. My favorite thing in those instances is to get them to tell stories from back in the day. It's crazy to hear all the little details and personal anecdotes about the same moments we touch on in the show and to hear them straight from the horse's mouth."
Gardiner's pedigree ranges from All My Children, to more classic fare, such as The Tempest. He also has his own music available on iTunes with hits such as "The Way We Weren't." Before Jersey Boys, Gardiner also played Timon in the national tour of The Lion King.
What is the biggest challenge in acting in a Broadway musical based on the lives of real people, especially for an actor who has taken on such roles as Hamlet, King Lear, and Darth Vader?
"The biggest challenge for me," Gardiner said, "is staying true to who Tommy DeVito is as an individual while honoring the character that exists within Jersey Boys. It's a fine line to walk. Before taking over the role of Tommy, I did my due diligence in researching who this person is -- listening to interviews, watching video footage etc. However, in the end, what matters most is the play and the story we're telling. So, as informative as all that research was, I had to eventually put it aside and think of Tommy more as a character. Otherwise, you end up just doing a bad impression without getting down to the core of who this guy really was/is and, oddly, I believe this is the best way to honor him as a person."
The audience, of course, is an integral part of any performance, and Tulsa audiences are in for a treat. Gardiner weighed in on what he thinks the audience will enjoy the most about this upcoming performance:
"I think the thing people will enjoy most is seeing where the story meets the music. The comment I hear time and again from audience members is, 'Wow, I knew the music would be great, but I was blown away by the story. It's unbelievable!' And I think that's what sets Jersey Boys apart from other band-inspired musicals; the story is so compelling it could stand alone without the music. ... and considering we're talking about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, that's saying something."
Please note that Jersey Boys is recommended for mature audiences.
Jersey Boys runs at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center June 6-24; for tickets call 918-596-7109.
There are many, many, many local theater companies in the Tulsa area -- some good, some bad, some infamous, some ... well, I'll just go ahead and say it: sad.
Chris Middlebrook is a cut above the rest. His theater group BAM Entertainment is a one-stop-shopping experience of everything from kid's parties to the many professional local gigs Middlebrook books throughout the year.
"We can do it all!" Middlebrook said. "We provide entertainment services for families, individuals and businesses -- everything from singing telegrams and clowns for kid's parties to murder mysteries, cabarets and Broadway performers."
Middlebrook, fresh from his appearances in the last two shows by Tulsa Project Theater, is quick to point out he has a great theatrical resume to call upon.
"I have been involved in all aspects of performance, from professional street theater to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals in London. I wanted to create a company using my skills that would fill all the entertainment gaps in Tulsa. We've got so many talented entertainers here in town, but often people aren't quite sure what they want for their events or how to make it happen."
Summertime is here and Middlebrook offers something for the kids as well, from birthday parties to summer camp in all different styles and age ranges.
"We will do circus and acting camps throughout Tulsa and the surrounding areas all summer."
Middlebrook has a great view on the arts community in Tulsa and how to keep our upward moving arts scene thriving and healthy.
"There is so much talent already out there," he said, "and I would love great entertainers to be able to stay here, rather than deserting us for the bigger cities. Companies such as Tulsa Project Theater are doing amazing things right now. I would also like to open my own center for the arts in the future."
For summer camp listings or any other information on BAM Entertainment, please call 918-899-8819 or visit BAMTulsa.com.
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