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For more than 50 years, the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has been unmistakable.
Valli’s unique, high-pitched voice caused millions of people to swoon. Infectious pop tunes such as “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Sherry” made fans out of teenagers and adults for decades.
That devotion has been reborn in a new generation of people through the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys.”
One of those new fans is Nick Cosgrove. Growing up in Park Ridge, Ill., in the early 2000s, he first saw the musical on tour in Chicago. A high school student of theater and song, he vowed that someday he’d be part of that iconic production.
Cosgrove has made good on his promise. For the past year, he has portrayed Valli in the touring production of “Jersey Boys.” Doing so required that he master Valli’s voice, go through hours of dance and song training at “Frankie Camp,” and audition eight times.
But in doing so, he has lived the life of a pop superstar and come to appreciate even more what makes this music so special.
“The generation that grew up with this music recognizes it and has a special place for this sound,” he said. “There’s something about this music that’s so catchy. The melodies are so well-written. That helps reach the younger generations.”
He’ll again take the stage as the Four Season’s frontman during a string of shows at Indianapolis’ Old National Center from Wednesday through Jan. 20.
“This is a grueling show to get through. Frankie is on stage the entire time. He’s dancing the entire time, sings 30 songs and he moves up from 14 to 70 over the course of the show,” said Richard Hester, production supervisor for “Jersey Boys.”
“You have to be somewhat twisted to put in the amount of time it takes to succeed at this. The real F is twisted enough to do it, and God love him, so is Nick.”
Cosgrove, 24, has been working for this moment since he was a teenager. Trained at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and performed in a half-dozen shows. He worked in master’s classes with actors such as Thomas Haden Church, Bebe Neuwirth and Megan Hilty.
Regional performances of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “The Sound of Music” helped hone his skills. But “Jersey Boys” is his first national tour.
The musical follows the story of Valli and the rest of the Four Seasons — Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. In addition to working in nearly 30 classic pop songs, the performance follows the roller-coaster ride of stardom the group experienced. Audiences watch as they go from blue-collar misfits to stars, all while dealing with family strife, internal discord and interactions with mobsters.
“You get a backstage pass to these musicians becoming one of the biggest sensations in music. They didn’t become this overnight. They went through a lot of up and down,” Cosgrove said.
“Jersey Boys” received the Tony award for the Best Musical of 2006 and has been seen by more than 15 million people on two national tours.
27 songs in 2½ hours
Cosgrove had his eyes set on playing Valli since he first saw the musical in 2005. While doing his other performances, he kept submitting videos to get callbacks.
He also participated in “Frankie Camps,” famed in theater circles for their intensity. The three-day workshops bring in actors from all over the country to sing the songs and do the dance of “Jersey Boys.”
“Imagine a room full of short, little guys all wanting to be Frankie Valli,” Cosgrove said.
They work with Katie Agresta, the vocal coach for the show, as well as choreographers. Over the course of 27 scenes, directors watch closely to see if potential actors have the right mix of skill, personality and endurance to lead the show.
“They put us through the ringer to see if we have the stamina to do the role,” Cosgrove said. “Playing Frankie every night is pretty much like running a marathon. You’re doing 27 songs in 2½ hours, with barely any time to leave the stage for a drink of water.”
Going through the audition process, he caught the attention of one of the original Four Seasons — Bob Gaudio. Gaudio is the show’s musical director and invited Cosgrove to work one-on-one in the studio on capturing Valli’s unmistakable sound.
“When we’re looking to cast these parts, passion is what we’re looking for, because that’s what the real Frankie had — this drive to be perfect. Nick has this as well,” Hester said.
They spent five hours in the studio, doing take after take until Cosgrove had it down. Having someone so close to the music help him master it was indispensable to landing the role, Cosgrove said.
“I grew up listening to a lot of Frankie Valli music. Before learning to read music, I had a good ear for it. I could replicate the sounds,” he said. “But his is a very signature, signature sound. To get tips from someone so close to the music was amazing.”
‘You go, go, go, go’
Cosgrove was offered the role of Valli in October 2011, and he spent the next three months auditioning and practicing for his opening night. On Jan. 12, he had his debut in Washington’s National Theater.
Since then, he has performed nonstop. The tour calls for six shows a week. The cast was given a weeklong vacation after six months of touring.
“You go, go, go, go. It’s an interesting lifestyle. You get homesick now and then, but you’re so busy it’s hard to think of that,” he said.
As with many traveling Broadway shows, “Jersey Boys” is a “circus moving city to city to city,” Hester said. Sixteen trailers are required to move all of the scenery, costumes, lighting, sound equipment and other necessities.
With many cast members playing multiple parts, there are thousands of costume combinations that have to be made available, Hester said. Though the show has only three main female parts, they have more than 90 wigs for those three actresses to wear.
“The show is directed almost like a movie, and it’s constantly moving and shifting. When we’re touring, we have to figure out a way to make the physical aspect of the tour move like we need it to,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Cosgrove and the rest of the “Jersey Boys” cast performed a slate of shows in Chicago at the Bank of America Theater. The venue was the same place he first saw the musical, where he had pledged to be Frankie Valli.
For Cosgrove, it was a chance to complete the arc of his career.
“To be in my hometown, with my friends and family there, was incredible. It’s been such an amazing ride,” he said.
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