He was the performer tasked with portraying Frankie Valli in the Australian premiere season of Jersey Boys, performing the role in over 850 shows and earning a Helpmann nomination for his incredible performance.
Now, Bobby Fox is revisiting the role that won him critically acclaim in his own two-hour show, Four Seasons in One Night. A celebration of the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the show gives audiences the opportunity to hear first hand Fox’s insights into the world of Jersey Boys and the music icons that inspired it. Audiences can expect to hear all their favourites from the Four Seasons’ repertoire including Oh what a night, Sherry, Walk like a man, and Can’t take my eyes off you.
Theatre People recently had the fortune of speaking to Fox about his latest project, which plays Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres on Sunday June 19.
Fox relays his experience becoming acquainted with Jersey Boys at the height of its success on Broadway.
“I was in New York on what I’d call an ‘inspirational holiday’,” he recalls.
“Jersey Boys had just won the Tony for ‘Best Musical’, and I happened to fluke getting a ticket. I absolutely loved the show.
“They announced they were going to be doing it in Australia, and I auditioned.”
Unfortunately, that process didn’t get off to the start Fox would’ve liked.
“I did my audition and was absolutely dreadful. My first one was a disaster, as in just horrid, the worst audition ever!”
But fortunately, that was far from the end of it.
“Lynne [Ruthven], the casting director… I’d auditioned for her many times before, and she said, ‘Bobby, what the hell are you doing? That was awful!’
“She said, ‘Go away, come back in two days and pick better songs and be yourself – be what you normally are. I think I got progressively better as each audition happened. I was just getting stronger and stronger, and vocally, it was just right for me.”
Fox talks about a daunting final audition, for which he was asked to perform one of the band’s most loved classics, Can’t take my eyes off you.
“It was really full on, and there were 20 people in the room – so many producers and directors and choreographers, all the American people and all the Australian people. There was also a camera in the middle of the table and Ron [Melrose], the musical director, said, ‘Just so you know, that camera is a direct link to Frankie. He’ll be watching the footage that we’re recording today’.”
But, of course, Fox emerged successful from the audition process, securing the coveted lead role of Frankie Valli – a role he played for the entire Melbourne and Sydney seasons. Jersey Boys ran in both cities for over a year, making it one of the most successful musicals to have played in Australia this century.
“The closing night of Melbourne was crazy,” Fox says.
“The band finished the play-off music and the audience clapped and cheered for 10 minutes! They just wouldn’t stop!”
Fox describes the experience Jersey Boys provided him as ‘life-changing’.
“It was 100% life changing, and I think in ways that I wasn’t really ready for, or I didn’t really acknowledge at the time. But it certainly made me a singer and it certainly made me an actor, it being my very first leading role.”
He continues, “All in all, it was almost three years. As soon as I got the gig, I was taken back to New York and I worked with Bob Gaudio in a studio for five days, recording all the songs and him giving me vocal direction. And then I went to Vegas to launch the show with the other three boys, and then met Frankie there for the first time. It was really a whirlwind experience.”
The winner of 57 major awards worldwide, Jersey Boys is a global phenomenon. Recently, it celebrated 10 years on Broadway, and has been on London’s West End for eight. In 2014, it became a film, directed by Clint Eastwood.
So, why is it that Jersey Boys has achieved such stratospheric success?
“Because of its honesty, I think,” Fox opines.
“It’s a real story, the music is incredible, the script is lightning fast, the direction is so bold and so raw… And it’s for men. It’s a man’s musical.
“The power of the show is not that people see it, but that they simply need to see it again and again. Doing my show, people constantly come up to me and say, ‘I saw the show in Sydney four times. The show is amazing’… It really affects people.”
Turning the discussion to what inspired Fox to shape his new touring show into its current form, Fox refers to conversations he had with James Millar (currently wowing Australian audiences with his portrayal of Miss Trunchball in Matilda).
“I just started telling him all these different anecdotes – about meeting the guys for the first time, about meeting Frankie and working with Bob, and the publicity tour before the show even started. He said, ‘These are your stories. This is what the show’s about’.”
Fox then began incorporating the stories that would link to each song performed.
“When I’m about to sing Walk like a man, I tell [the story] of walking into the studio to work with a pop music icon in New York and that feeling of needing to step up – to walk like a man!
“[The show has] really evolved over time, which has been great. I never used to have three boys performing with me. It used to just be a band and two BVs – a boy and a girl. But now, I have three guys and we’ve choreographed the show to be in the style of Jersey Boys. So for all the numbers, they come out and help. It’s got those iconic harmonies.”
Fox is even musically accompanied on stage by someone who was part of his Jersey Boys experience.
“My musical director, Graham, played over 1000 shows as the guitarist. So he knows the music so intrinsically.”
Of all the indelible classics in the Four Seasons’ back catalogue, are there standout tracks Fox never tires of performing?
“My eyes adored you,” is his response.
“That kills me that song. I think it’s stunning. I never get bored of it. I think, rhythmically, it’s gorgeous and the melody is stunning. I think the lyrics are just so easy. They flow so naturally.
“I can’t really get bored of the songs because I see how they affect people… The way that they affect people is brilliant.”
Not long before the upcoming Sydney show, Fox and his company will be part of an event that continues to grow in terms of its significance in the global arts community.
“We’re going to be performing at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which is just brilliant,” he says.
“I’m so excited to be doing it. The line-up is stellar! It’s world-class! I’m so excited about it.”
So, if you haven’t already had the chance to be blown away by Bobby Fox as the legendary 1960s pop icon, be sure to work your way down to Parramatta to witness Four Seasons in One Night!
FOUR SEASONS IN ONE NIGHT
Dates: Sunday 19 June at 3pm
Tickets: Adult $49, Conc $44, 30 & Under $35
Bookings: From the Box Office (02) 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
Venue: Riverside Theatres – Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta