"While the staging is similar to what is on Broadway," McAnuff revealed at a Nov. 9 press-invited preview of the company, "the performances are fresh and unique. And we certainly encourage our actors to bring their own life and souls into the roles."
The Broadway musical garnered four Tony Award: for Broadway stars John Lloyd Young and Christian Hoff, lighting designer Howell Binkley and Best Musical. But, success aside, the director — who doubles as artistic director at California's La Jolla Playhouse, where the musical debuted — is proud of another stage feat.
"On Broadway, we have only lost one actor in the course of the year, and that one actor [Titus Burgess] we actually stole from ourselves because he is playing the Lion in The Wiz at La Jolla right now," said McAnuff. He hopes for the same with the road company.
The new young actors ready to play the Four Seasons for the tour are Deven May (Bat Boy) as Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen (White Christmas) as Bob Gaudio, Michael Ingersoll (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) as Nick Massi and Christopher Kale Jones (Zhivago), who tackles Frankie Valli.
For three of the four Boys, the audition process was a breeze. "It was one of the best audition processes I've had in a long time," said May, who takes on a new swagger in the role of DeVito. "From start to finish it was two weeks." Bergen — who closely parallels real-life counterpart Gaudio's height — concurs. "I went in there, and it felt so easy. I felt that I already understood the role."
Another former Bat Boy, Ingersoll (he took on the role created Off-Broadway by May at Memphis' Playhouse on the Square), was in the running for the lead of Frankie Valli following his audition in Chicago for musical director Ron Melrose. "Then Des had me read Nicky at the last hour and decided it was a better fit."
Meanwhile, the tough role of falsetto-happy Frankie Valli was still up for grabs. Jones — who originally auditioned and was asked to come to callbacks — had all but thought his chances at the role were through when he could not attend. "I was doing Grease at Stages St. Louis and went back and told my theatre, 'I've got to be back there on Friday,' and they said, 'It's our first preview. If your plane gets stuck, we're out thousands of dollars. You can't go.'" So, the loyal actor missed the final callbacks. Then, a little more than a month ago, he got a call that the role was still unfilled. "So I flew to La Jolla, and it went well. They flew me back to New York where I had to audition for Bob Gaudio and the rest of the producing team. And, oddly enough, Joe Pesci was also in the room, so that was an exciting thrill. They called me the next day and told me I got it."
As for his turn in Grease as Doody, local theatre critic Jim Campbell wrote of Jones: "One of the best vocal performances of the entire production on 'Those Magic Changes.' The number nearly brought the house down and deservedly so; this boy has a voice that has to be heard." Seems like it will.