Oct. 12 2015 09:00 AM

Drew Seeley on ‘Jersey Boys’ and show business

Jersey Boys
Aaron De Jesus (left) as Frankie Valli shakes hands with Bob Gaudio, played by Drew Seeley.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

MONDAY, Oct. 12 — When you’re casting a musical called “Jersey Boys,” you might not think a Canadian would fit the bill.

But Toronto native Drew Seeley would disagree. The versatile actor adopted a Jersey accent and hit the road with a touring production of “Jersey Boys,” which arrives at the Wharton Center tomorrow. Not too bad for a Canuck, eh?

The musical tells the story of 1960s/1970s rock band the Four Seasons, fronted by singer Frankie Valli. Seeley plays Bob Gaudio, keyboardist and vocalist for the group, in the touring production. City Pulse caught up with Seeley in between tour stops to talk about the show and his life in show business.

Tell me about your role in “Jersey Boys.”

I play Bob Gaudio, who is one of the Four Seasons. He was the last member to join the group and the principal songwriter. They make fun of him in the show, they call him “the brains” or “the genius.” But he’s a really smart guy, he’s a very quiet guy — he doesn’t like the spotlight that much and allows Frankie to go out front and shine. But definitely an essential piece of the puzzle who keeps the group together.

Gaudio is also one of the original producers of the show. Have you met him yet?

I have not yet, but from what I hear he may be coming to a show next week in Atlanta. I can’t say I’m not nervous. Hopefully he’ll feel like I do his character justice. I really look forward to meeting him, because I’ve been playing him for almost a year now and haven’t had a chance yet.

How did you prepare for this role?

I saw the show a couple of times when I was preparing. But I didn’t watch the movie until about two months ago. I didn’t want to have my performance colored too much by other people’s interpretations of it.

But the script is really airtight. Everything is on the page, so when you get in the rehearsal room with the four other guys who are going to be playing the band members and work through these scenes, the character kind of reveals itself. It naturally evolved into what it is now.

The Four Seasons have a checkered past that many people aren’t aware of. How does that play into the audience experience?

The story of what these guys went through — broken marriages and mob ties and gambling debts and everything — is such a 180 from the music, the bright suit jackets and smiling faces and perfect harmonies. I think a lot of people know the music but don’t know the stories. So they come to the show maybe expecting something more like a review, a happy-go-lucky night. You do leave the theater feeling uplifted by the music and by the experience, but there’s something very visceral about the story and the show as well. It’s like a full-package experience. You get a great narrative in addition to this great music.

You have also done some television and film acting, how is that different from a Broadway show?

I’ve been very blessed in my career. I’ve tried a lot of different things. Broadway was a blast, I loved living in New York. I did a show called “Glory Days” in 2011. It was my first regular gig on a TV show and it was based in the ‘80s. I got to play this super-Republican college kid. We shot for three or four months in Pasadena. All these great guest stars from “SNL” came on, it was an amazing experience. I’d love to do more of that in the future.

Film and TV, you get one or two cracks at it, then it’s done. With (“Jersey Boys”) it’s like “Groundhog Day” sometimes. You wake up and you’re doing the same thing again. I’ve done over 200 shows now. But it’s not a challenge to keep it fresh, because I am working with a really good group of guys. The whole cast is very present on stage; you don’t get mechanical performances. We’re always responding in the moment, even though we’ve done these things hundreds of times.

How did you get started in acting?

My sister and I, we told (my parents) that we wanted to do this when we were young, and they spoiled us and drove us to auditions. We really lucked out in that sense. My first professional acting gig was “Showboat,” a pre-Broadway production they did in Toronto. I did that when I was 11. I was one of the ensemble kids. Two of us split the role, so I did four shows a week. It was my after-school job for a year. I just loved it — I loved every aspect of it. At that point I wanted to continue acting.

Do you have a favorite moment in “Jersey Boys?”

There’s a lot of moments. Bob’s big song is “Cry for Me,” and that’s always been a favorite part of the show for me because I love the song and it’s the first time you hear all four of us singing together. It’s the moment where the Four Seasons hear their sound and figure out what they could be moving forward. It’s an exciting moment.

There’s also the big three — “Sherrie,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” — when the band really hits it big. It’s a one-two-three punch. We dance a lot, and there are costume changes. It’s an exciting moment. The audience is really invested at that point, because they know all the songs and can sing along with everything.

“Jersey Boys”

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13-Thursday, Oct. 15; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18

Tickets start at $38

Wharton Center

750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com