Seeing Jersey Boys Holland and Jersey Boys London within the same week has been an amazing experience. Not only because the show itself is one every theatre lover should see, but also because it is interesting to notice how each actor and musician brings his or her own special quality to the musical. I had an interview on Valentine’s Day in London with Tim Driesen, who plays the lead in the Dutch version of Jersey Boys. He answered my questions for a unique view on some of the personal and more universal aspects of playing the lead in a popular theatre production, such as the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
The Belgian theatre actor was supposed to play the part of Frankie Valli in the Prince Edward Theatre for the first time on Tuesday the 11th of February. However, an ill-timed flu prevented him from doing so. Luckily he was able to make his debut on the London stage two days later. It shows he’s a true professional, because I saw the matinee on Saturday the 15th and I couldn’t hear or see any trace of the unlucky ordeal he went through a couple of days earlier. It’s sheer joy to watch him play and sing.
One of the best aspects of Jersey Boys are the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. They are timeless. “A good song remains a good song, whether you heard it fifty years ago or hear it twenty years from now,” Tim agrees. On stage he gets to sing one of his favourites: “I can’t take my eyes off of you” and I know for a fact the feeling of the audience is mutual! The reaction of the audience on the shows I saw, was exuberant to say the least and I can imagine this enthusiasm fills the theatre during every show.
Do the guys get to play around on stage and improvise after having done the show for so many times? “No,” Tim immediately replies. “Basically nothing in the shows of the West End is improvised, unless it’s an actual show on improvisation or they’ve hired a comedian who specialises in that sort of thing. Everything is pretty much meticulously planned. You can obviously play around with interpretation. There’s a million ways in which you can do a scene, but a director usually choses one or two ways in which you can do it. You do get to play around a bit, as long as you stay within the frame. But fundamentally it’s the same act every show, which makes my job difficult and interesting at the same time. You have to keep it fresh for yourself and the people in the audience, because most of them see the musical for the first time. On top of that, you can’t go walking around on stage, because there are trap doors that open and there’s set pieces lowered down from the ceiling, the lights are in a certain position. You might hurt yourself or your colleagues if you don’t stick to the script.”
London audiences vs. Dutch crowds
Although the show might be the same as in the Beatrix Theatre in Utrecht, the audiences are slightly different. “The main difference is here you’re performing in the West End, the mecca of musical in Europe,” Tim says. “Many tourists come to London, visit the Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace… and see a West End show. That’s kind of a typical weekend in London. It’s part of it. However the crowds here are different from the Dutch viewers. London audiences are a bit more reserved than Dutch ones. Also, in the Netherlands we do the dialogue in Dutch so everyone understands the story, but here many tourists don’t speak the language as well as they would like, which results in them not understanding all the nuances. What’s more is you have to work really hard to get an audience to stand at the end of the show here. In Holland it’s a little bit easier. Mind you, you still have to work hard, because people don’t stand up for the sake of it!”
Meeting the real Frankie Valli
Before playing the character in Jersey Boys, Tim met the actual Frankie Valli. “Last summer I spent a whole morning with him, after he did a show in the Royal Albert Hall. He’s incredible. I mean this man is eighty years old but he’s still doing around fifty-five shows a year. Many people his age are in homes, but he still out there working. Because all he’s ever known since being a little boy, is music and performing. I think in the same way as actors are never satisfied with their performance, even though people say ‘you did a great job’, there’s always that one scene that didn’t go well. I think it’s the same with ever professional performer and the same with Frankie. I don’t think he will ever stop. He had to work hard to pay off the debts, but I guess he still would’ve done the same thing without the pressure of settling the debts. Nowadays he can probably choose which gigs he wants to do, and he still has that falsetto voice. It’s incredible.”
Leaving your troubles off stage
Watching Tim and his multitalented colleagues on stage, who make everything they do look so easy, almost makes you forget they’re just human beings. The difference is, they have to leave their troubles and emotions behind as long as they’re in front of an audience. “That distinguishes the professionals from the amateurs,” Tim explains. “You can’t take it on stage. The show must go on. You miss birthdays, births and funerals because of your job and you can’t always get away or go to your family and friends. It’s a shame, but it’s the profession that you’re in. When something bad happens you can’t always be there. You have to leave your troubles literally off stage, because the minute you walk on stage you’re someone else. But it’s a choice you make, if this is what you’re going to do with your life. You have a certain obligation to your audience.”
Jersey Boys The Movie
Soon many more people will get to know about the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, since Clint Eastwood is making a movie of it, which is due around September 2014. So luckily the Jersey Boys train keeps rolling on. Tim is also on the move, because next week he will be back with his Dutch co-stars in the Netherlands. “Even though it’s great to perform in London with a very loving and giving cast and it’s fantastic that they asked me to come here for a week, I’m really looking forward to performing with my friends of the Dutch cast again,” Tim smiles.
I’m sure Dutch audiences will also be happy to have Tim back on stage in the Beatrix Theatre in Utrecht!