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Interview with Courter Simmons of Jersey Boys
Interview with Courter Simmons of Jersey Boys
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

JERSEY BOYS
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
DECEMBER 5 - JANUARY 12


Courter Simmons, who plays the real-life person Joe Pesci in the upcoming Jersey Boys, wants the audience to know that "the thing that hooks audiences is that it's music that they love, but it's also a fantastic story, moving and touching and fun. Audiences expect the Four Seasons, but they might not expect how much this will affect them and move them."

He continues, "The show is a great mixture of this music everybody knows and identifies with, even younger people. They [the songs] are part of American consciousness, like 'Sherry' and 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You' are all part of our culture. And then it's a really intriguing, interesting story about how this all came to be. This isn't the usual revue that doesn't have that great a story around the music, this is a really great story."

He's talking about the story of how the Four Seasons (or Franki Valli and the Four Seasons) actually got together. Simmons plays the role of Joey, who is actually a young Joe Pesci. Pesci was actually involved in getting the Four Seasons together. Simmons told how Joe Pesci had a music career in the '60s. Pesci's not well known for his singing, but he put out an album called My Cousin Vinnie. (We wonder why he ended up in a movie of the same name, eh?)

Simmons reports, "The way he knew Tommy Devito, the leader of the group in the early years, they used to run a scam at a bowling alley. Joe Pesci worked at a bowling alley and Tommy would pay Joe, cuz all the pins used to be manually set by people, and Tommy would pay Joe to install the pins a little bit off and then Tommy would bet on the games' outcomes and give Joey a little off the top. Pesci knew Tommy was in a band, too. Tommy was already working with Frankie Valli and Nick Massi, they'd already had some failed incarnations, like Four Lovers and Varietones."

Pesci's band included Bob Gaudio and Pesci introduced the other three Seasons to Bob, who wrote the vast majority of the Seasons' hit songs. Simmons and the other actors must recreate their early enthusiasm and play characters that are mostly still alive to see themselves played on stage.

He describes what that means on stage. "It's important that you not do an impression or impersonation of the character. There's a fine line between people knowing that I'm playing Joe Pesci and impersonating him. My actions and my voice and what I say and do on stage has to suggest who Joe Pesci is, from movies and television, and it's important that people believe that, but I'm up there playing the role. But I'm not exaggerating a walk or putting on a funny voice. It's hard for an actor to find where it's OK to suggest mannerisms of the person. You really have to fulfill the emotions of the part."

Simmons joined the touring cast where it started in San Francisco. He says, "I also understudy Franki Valli, and I think I'll play a few performances in Seattle. I love doing it when I get the chance. It's singing in that high falsetto range and it's a lot of fun. The Joe Pesci role is a more comedic part in the show and it's fun to make people laugh. As Pesci, I don't have to do any high drama. I do get slapped around a little bit, but that's it."

One significant area of content in the show is a main character being Gay, with his Gay lover on stage and that "isn't something only a Gay audience would recognize, it's something the whole audience clearly knows," Simmons explains. There are certainly not a lot of openly Gay characters in musicals or revues like this.

Simmons amplifies how strange this might be in the story of the Jersey Boys. "This is a story about these four Italian-American guys who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and maybe had involvement with the 'mob' and petty theft and they all had arrest records. There's this guy, Bob Crewe, who first gave them their start. He wasn't an openly Gay man in the '50s when they started, but he's certainly out now. You'd think these four guys would be the first ones to pull out a baseball bat, and it never happened. He had a huge influence over their careers.

"Bob Crewe grew up in the neighborhood with the guys and got out [of the neighborhood] and started producing records in New York City, the current center of the music world, and produced other hit groups. The Four Seasons started out working as backup singers for other groups that Bob was producing. Eventually, the guys pushed him to record some of their songs. They sang 'Sherry' to Bob on the phone and, within three weeks, they sold a million copies."

His impressions of what it will be like spending six weeks in Seattle? He laughs as he says, "I heard that it rains all the time. I've been to Seattle, once about six years ago, in another show. I had a fantastic time, but I was only here for week. This is for six weeks, and we're all looking forward to a long run. I'm excited about playing in the 5th Avenue space. We're looking forward to Starbucks and lots of rain. With eight shows a week, we only have one day off and we usually want to collapse, but I'll be staying around downtown and we'll be here over Christmas and New Year's and it will be fun to celebrate in Seattle."

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