When the final curtain comes down at the end of Jersey Boys’ run at Mayflower Theatre, it will be a poignant moment for the show’s Frankie Valli.
Michael Watson has been in the show on and off since 2014 – first in London’s West End, and then since November 2017 on a mammoth UK tour which is finally coming to an end this month.
‘It will be bitter-sweet,’ he tells The Guide. ‘I’m ready for something new, but it has been such a massive part of my life. I think there will be a feeling that it was an amazing experience, but it’s time to move on.’
Jersey Boys tells the true life story of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks who wrote their own songs, invented their own unique sound, and as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons sold 100m records in the process.
Recalling how he first came to Jersey Boys he says: ‘I auditioned to be the first cover role, got that, and did it for a year.’
But then the chance to play Frankie Valli came up, which he has made his own ever since.
‘It was coming to the end of the time for the chap before me, and they saw something in me where they thought: “He would be great to take this role on,” so it was almost like an apprenticeship – a year of figuring it out.
‘I did that for two years in London, and then a took a year and a half of doing my own thing. Then I came back to this show again and that’s been it until now.’
When it comes to recreating Frankie’s distinctive singing voice, Michael had the best help going.
‘I went out to the States to do what they call a Frankie camp, which is with the American creative team.
‘Then I also had to fly out to Nashville to meet (Valli’s Four Seasons co-founder) Bob Gaudio and I sang in the studio with him, singing the songs. He recorded us, gave us some pointers, then recorded us again and sent us both version and showed us the difference from where we started to after he gave us the pointers and it was amazing. I used those pointers and sort of expanded on them.
‘I had the falsetto there naturally, but the hard bit was to find a way and to find the strength to do it six times a week. It was learning techniques and certain other different aspects, mindsets and so on, that would allow me to enjoy the process rather than think about it too much. Now I really don’t think about the show until I go in and do my warm-ups, because I know I can do it.’
For those who still look at jukebox musicals with scepticism, Michael prefers to describe Jersey Boys as a play with songs.
‘If you took the music out you’ve still got a great story. If you took the play out, you’ve still got fantastic songs. But put the two together and you’ve got an amazing night out.
‘I think it’s wonderful really – it’s written just like a play or a great film script, there’s a realness to it, and we’re encouraged to play reality, and not overact or over-animate.
‘Sometimes on stage and in musicals in particular they’ll want you to be a bit larger than life, because it’s meant to be larger than life, but with this show, they embrace the realistic side, so as an actor it’s wonderful.
‘When they were first writing the script they said let’s write a story around the songs, but then from talking to Frankie and Bob they realised their lives are so much more interesting than anything they would write.’
And Michael admits that before he joined the cast, while he was aware of their songs, he ‘wasn’t consciously a fan.’
‘I knew their music through osmosis, but it’s when I came to watch the show and realised: “Woah! that’s all their songs” and you realise that’s incredible – they had a lot of hits and a lot of influence over pop culture.’
Michael has been lucky to forge a close bond with his fellow Four Seasons too.
‘The three other guys I do the show with, we all get on really well and have a great connection which I think comes through in the performance.
‘Luckily it was one of those things that came together quite naturally in the rehearsals. We’ve been quite close and gelled since day one, so to keep that energy up 15 months later is the impressive thing.’
With the end in sight, though, Michael is looking forward to some well-earned downtime with his family at their home along the coast in Poole, Dorset.
‘I think I’m going to take time out to be with my family - I want to spend some time with my two kids and my wife, I’ve been away a lot this 15 months. It may be a while until I take on another show, but we’ll see.’
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton