Oh What A Night! Lewis Griffiths on bringing Jersey Boys back to Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 11:55 04 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:58 04 June 2018
Timeless hits and the true story of how four New Jersey boys from the wrong side of the tracks rose to global stardom, musical Jersey Boys is back in the region. Lewis Griffiths who plays Nick Massi tells Simon Parkin about the band’s enduring appeal.
The music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons really does appear to be timeless. Though they first enjoyed the majority of their hits in the early 1960s, they’ve rarely been out of favour and appear to be just as popular today.
It is a testament the quality of the songs, which continue to be covered and taken back into the charts by today’s artists, but also a fascination with the group’s back story.
Jersey Boys, which has some 55 major awards under its belt, and has been seen by over 19 million people worldwide since it first opened on Broadway in 2005, tells with gritty honesty the true story of how four New Jersey boys from the wrong side of the tracks rose to stardom as one of the most successful bands in pop music history, selling 175 million records worldwide – all before they were 30.
The musical is this week back at Norwich Theatre Royal with a cast that includes Michael Watson as Frankie Valli, Simon Bailey as Tommy DeVito, Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio and Lewis Griffiths, who tells us more, returning to the role of Nick Massi.
You were in the original UK tour line-up of Jersey Boys. Why did you come back to the show?
I love the show. I had been a fan of it since its conception and it was a turning point in my career as well when I got the part originally in the tour, before I left to take up the lead role in Dirty Dancing. When they called me back it was a no brainer. I jumped at the chance.
You are playing the role of Nick Massi again. Why that role in particular?
It is a part that I hold dear to my heart. I had actually auditioned for the show in London four times previously, but never for one of the singers. However I had been seen by the guy who became the tour director and he had said ‘he’s good, but not right for this part. Next time see him for Nick’. So when they decided to take the show on the road they did see me as Nick. It was a big break for me, but clearly they had seen that Nick was the right part for me.
Were you a fan of the music of Frankie and Four Seasons before being involved in the show?
I absolutely love it. I know it sounds like I’m saying what people would expect to hear, but no it’s true I genuinely do have a love for this music. I think everybody in the show does. I think that helps because part of what makes the show so successful is the individual passion of the people in it. If you have that passion it comes across on stage.
The story of the Four Seasons rise from New Jersey obscurity to global stardom continues to inspire from this musical to the Clint Eastwood film. Why does it continue to fascinate?
People didn’t realise the depth of the story behind the band. People may know the music and may know the success of the band, but they don’t know the individual stories of the people behind that success. That’s especially true of my character, Nick, because with him it’s not what he says or what he does, the majority of the time it is what he doesn’t say or doesn’t do. There are a lot of underlying subplots going on which are revealed in the show.
Does the show tell the story rather than being a collection of the songs?
Definitely. I don’t me to be disrespectful to any other show that goes under the banner of a jukebox musical, which I have done plenty of, but we are certainly not that. This is much more like a biopic, a play that just happens to be about a band, and that band just happens to have an incredible back catalogue of music. It lends itself to the musical genre, but it is more about the story of the band.
You have appeared in numerous successful musicals, most recently playing Johnny in Dirty Dancing. Is the chance to act as much as sing part of the appeal of the show?
It’s a treat for me because I’ve been in musical theatre for a long time. I was in my first job when I was 13. I have been very fortunate to be successful thus far, but when Jersey Boys came along I noticed it wasn’t just a stereotypical musical. It has a solid backbone and requires actors to play the parts.
Is it fun to be in a show about a band which as a consequence as an ensemble cast?
It is. When I was in Dirty Dancing I was playing the lead so the pressure was on me. In this that pressure is distributed amongst four leading guys.
What do you think is the enduring appeal of the music?
It’s timeless. It doesn’t get old. There is a reason why it gets sampled on modern day music, a reason that it is covered, a reason that it is performed again and again, and always played at weddings and birthdays and parties, because it remains relevant and still appeals. That’s why this show was written about this particular band and its music, because they made a stamp on the music industry and on people’s lives. We have all kinds of audiences come see our show. The modern day Jersey Boys audience, maybe 25 and below, but also it appeals right up to people in their eighties. People who were around at the conception of the Four Seasons. Frankie Valli himself is 84.
Do you have a favourite song?
I have three if I’m honest. One because its sentimental, Who Loves You?, one because it is just beautiful to listen to, My Eyes Adored You, and another, Beggin’, because it is a poignant part in the show and also for me one of the more groovy songs.
You are from Southend. Is it good to the back in the region with the show?
Born and bred in Southend. Big Blues fan. We are playing the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend at the end of July for two weeks, and that is a blessing because I get to see a lot of my friends and family who I don’t get to see very often because I’m on the road. I’m away a long time because this is a long, long tour.
• Jersey Boys is at Norwich Theatre Royal from June 5-16, £46-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk