Here is a sample of the kinds of reviews Christopher Kale Jones has received for his portrayal of Frankie Valli in the first national tour of the mega-hit Jersey Boys: "Embodies a youthful Frankie Valli with charm, focus, naiveté and a killer voice." "Easily brings down the house." "Replicating Valli's incredible vocal range, Jones deserves each ovation."
Jones has been with the tour since it began in San Francisco in December 2006, and he and the show have been embraced by critics and audiences from city to city. (Jersey Boys is now at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis for a month.)
"It's amazing," he says. "There's a house full of people screaming and clapping, which is an incredible rush. I love it and I still feed off it. When we opened in San Francisco, we walked offstage and looked at each other and said, 'Can you believe that? And we get to experience it every night.' Even after all this time, there are still pinch-me moments in the show where we are taken aback by the response."
This is the first national tour for Jones, who had done lots of regional theatre before landing the role of Frankie Valli. In approaching the part, he sought to find a way to be true to Valli's distinctive sound without imitating him. "If you just sing those notes, you're going to sound a little bit like Frankie, simply because not a lot of people do that falsetto," says the Hawaii native. "I've attempted to imitate Frankie to the degree that I'm capable, without sacrificing performance, and it's been working out well. I had a great conversation with him about it when we were opening the show in San Francisco. A lot of the way he learned to sing was by imitation. So he understood the constraints of imitation, and he's been very understanding. I basically try to play the script as much as I possibly can, while trying to affect Frankie to some degree in terms of accent and so on. One of the gifts of doing a long run like this is that you can keep working at it. In his performance style as well as in his real life, he's kind of constrained physically. He doesn't have a lot of need for big gestures. "He was never a flamboyant performer. If you look at clips of him performing, it was very much about the voice and the music and interpreting the song, but it wasn't about a lot of show. And I find that to be true in the brief encounters I've had with him in his normal life. So I try to honor that within the performance."
Playing Frankie Valli has been a life-changing experience for Jones, personally and professionally. "It gave me the financial freedom to get married," he says, which he did in October. "And I know that having this role on my résumé will open doors that might have been closed to me before. Similar to Frankie, I'm always looking forward to what's around the corner. I'm super excited to be doing the show now and I'm glad to do it for a long time. But I know at some point I'll do something new and exciting, and I can't imagine what it will be like. I can't imagine topping this. The responses that we get are unheard of in theatre. So I think my next job will be a letdown, no matter how rewarding it is."