A lesson in perseverance led to a path of victory for a determined young man
It’s just good to bob your head, clap your hands and sing along with the sounds of yesteryear that bring back treasured memories. This is the experience I recently enjoyed at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre during JERSEY BOYS, the Tony®, Grammy® and Olivier Award-winning Best Musical about Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. This is the story of how four blue-collar kids became one of the greatest successes in pop music history. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were 30!
JERSEY BOYS features their hit songs “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” “Oh What a Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
JERSEY BOYS opened at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway to critical acclaim on November 6, 2005. The JERSEY BOYS First National Tour opened to rave reviews in San Francisco on December 1, 2006, played a record-breaking run in Los Angeles and is still breaking house records in cities across North America. JERSEY BOYS is currently playing in New York; London; Las Vegas; Brisbane, Australia; and across the U.S. on two National tours. JERSEY BOYS is coming soon to Adelaide, Australia; Singapore; and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Justin Lonesome has the enviable task of performing in this national tour of the crowd-pleasing musical. I talked to the 24-year-old Baltimore native about his multidimensional role in JERSEY BOYS and the joy that it brings–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: I went expecting to see a good show and was treated to a fantastic trip down memory lane….
Lonesome: I’m glad you enjoyed it because it’s a lot of fun to be up there.
Talk2SV: Tell me a bit about your background.
Lonesome: I first auditioned for Jersey Boys in August of last year (2012) and it was a good audition but there were some things that probably could have gone better; it’s all about timing I guess.
Talk2SV: You were turned down at first…
Lonesome: I went back to the production company in December of last year and made some changes to my audition. I also ‘told myself’ that I was going to book it! From the second audition, I joined the first national tour.
Talk2SV: Was it a measure of confidence that you lacked between August and December?
Lonesome: I guess you could say that…it was a whole journey. I graduated college in 2011. You leave school with so much structure but you also have to find out who you are outside of that structure. You have to build your own structure. The time between graduating and joining Jersey Boys was a time of building myself up; building up my self-confidence so that I could do it. I wanted to do it, I wanted to perform and I had to realize that nothing changes on its own. You don’t just magically become some other person then all of a sudden you’re ready. You must tell yourself that you’re ready, go out and do your best.
Talk2SV: How much of a character study did you have to do to prepare given the era of the music?
Lonesome: Well, I was raised with this era of music. Of course, I got more of a Motown side of this era but the rock and roll side– Tina Turner –is something that has always been a part of my life. My mom’s side of the family provided that musical history. JERSEY BOYS is a period piece but the music is so alive and there are so many memories. Music pulls out of you what nothing else can much in the same way that church teachings bring you closer to your spiritual self. The music of this era resonates within me because I connect it with every major holiday from childhood cookouts to family gatherings. One particular song, “Working My Way Back to You” is a song I’ve been hearing since I was six years old. It’s always with me and really easy to identify with. Few things can bring back those types of memories without pictures to remind you of a special moment.
Talk2SV: You have several key roles in JERSEY BOYS. I know there is more to performing on tour than meets the eye but you make it seem easy.
Lonesome: Yes, when you go out on tour it’s much faster than if you were with the show from the beginning of the production, start to finish. Some shows take months, some get a good six week rehearsal period. When I joined this tour, I rehearsed a total of two weeks altogether…most of it (performance) falls on the actor; it’s all about getting yourself prepared and doing your homework because you have such a short amount of time. You need to know as much going in as possible just to start and you can add on information rather than trying to learn everything at once. It will never work out that way. The show is a machine and the team behind it is so specific about what they want, about how it’s played and the story that’s being told. JERSEY BOYS plays like a movie; it’s a continuous flow of movement, music and song so that you get the story of all four guys intertwined and how it (their story) really happened. In some scenes you’re on stage, off stage, then on stage again in less than 20 seconds as a completely different character. It’s rapid, it’s fast, but it’s specific and that’s good.
Talk2SV: At its core –the heart of the story– four boys who were friends came together to sing and we learn of their trials and triumphs on the way to fame. From a personal perspective does this story ring true for you, reflective of your beginnings in acting?
Lonesome: Absolutely. I’m from Baltimore and I began in theatre. My first show was at my middle school; we performed the movie version of “Fame” when I was in 7th grade. After that, my mother made it a point to keep me involved in acting because she could see how I was attracted to it; the person I became when I was on stage…she made sure I continued and connected me to a group called the Arena Players Incorporated (www.arenaplayersinc.com), founding Artistic Director is Sam Wilson. According to the organization’s website, it is the longest continuously operating African-American community theater in the US.
I can safely say that that place changed my life forever.
The people that I met there along with the teachers taught me things that I still use today and will use for the rest of my life. They shaped my work and I owe them so much. One of my teachers is Troy Burton (heads the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute), a director. We just lost Robert F. Chew (played “Proposition Joe” on HBO’s acclaimed dramatic series, The Wire). He passed away in January. Mr. Chew was my first music teacher. He’s the one that got me singing, he started it, you know. He had such a way with teaching. Everybody at that place did, it was very hands on, it wasn’t about books rather it was about getting up and getting us “doing” it. They pushed us to get involved in art and to get us excited about it. They got every single one of us excited about art and excited about our lives because we were good at something and they believed in us. They pushed us not to be perfect but to be excellent. They expected excellence and it was fortifying at such a young age to be surrounded by older people who believed in you and said, ‘this is what you can do,’ and ‘you’re here because you want to be here…while you’re here you need to learn and you need to figure things out.’ That support built my structure. I also have a ton of friends from there. I went to college with many of my friends from the Arena Players and they are some of my closest friends to this day. We still have dreams to start theatre companies maybe in Baltimore and New York, and we’re working on those things now. I can’t believe you asked about that, I’m so happy you did because we can get sort of caught up in our lives that we sometimes forget the people that were there from the start and those are some of the most special people that I know. They are my friends to the point where I don’t even call them friends, they are family.
JERSEY BOYS runs through April 28th at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street between Mason and Taylor, San Francisco CA. Get more details at www.shnsf.com.