Lewis Griffiths is currently starring as Nick Massi in the UK Tour of Jersey Boys. Although the show has been running for over six years in the West End, this is the first time Jersey Boys has ever toured the UK.
The musical has been seen by over 19 million people worldwide and is firmly established as one of the West End's longest running and most popular shows. It tells the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rise to stardom from the wrong side of the tracks.
Lewis’s West End credits include: understudy Frank in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Estonia/Russia/Sweden in Eurobeat - Almost Eurovision (also UK Tour), understudy Benny in RENT: Remixed, understudy Nick & Schlomo in FAME and Whistle Down The Wind.
His other credits include: Kyle The UPS Guy/understudy Warner in Legally Blonde (UK Tour), understudy Carl in Ghost The Musical (UK Tour), Don't Stop Believin' (UK Tour), Keno "Buddy" Walsh in The Full Monty (Key Theatre, Peterborough) and Carminé in Love Shack (UK Tour).
I recently spoke to Lewis about being a fan of the Four Seasons, wanting to be in Jersey Boys since he first saw it and taking on the role of Nick Massi…
Jersey Boys has been staged all around the world but has never toured the UK before. How does it feel to be in a brand new production of such a successful show?
It’s an honour to be a part of this family – and it is a family. Jersey Boys is a product within itself because everyone around the world knows it and in the theatreworld it is one of those standalone shows. The UK Tour is pretty much like the sister production to the West End production because we have exactly the same production values as the West End and Broadway productions. Coming into it feels like joining an existing family.
The first time I saw the show was the original London production with Ryan Molloy as Frankie Valli. I am kind of preaching to the choir because if anyone has seen this show they will sit there and go, ‘Wow. That is a stand out piece of theatre’. Of course as an actor I said, “I want to be involved in that at some point” and here I am! I’ve spent four years auditioning for this job knowing that if I kept going I would eventually get it [laughs]. Perseverance prevails!
Lewis Griffiths, Tim Driesen, Sam Ferriday and Stephen Webb
That must bring extra pressure if you’re auditioning for a job you really want!
Yes, there is extra pressure but you’ve got to know you’re right for it and have the right chemistry with everyone else. The timing has to be right and fortunately for me, with the first UK touring production, it was right and they wanted me!
How much did you already know about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons?
Well the funny thing this is I’ve been a fan of the Four Seasons’ music for years, but… I didn’t know it was them who wrote it [laughs]! A lot of people go and see the show and think, ‘I love this song… oh and there’s another hit… and another!’ It’s hit song after hit song after hit song. For me it was like throwing myself into something I love.
Were you able to research the character?
It’s an odd one because unfortunately Nick Massi is no longer with us; he’s the only one of the four boys to have passed away. I had a conversation with the director and he was very happy with what I brought to the table which is 50 percent what I thought Nick was and 50 percent me. He said it’s not an easy job to take on a) an existing character, b) a real person and also someone who’s not around anymore because the research you can do is limited – there’s not a great deal of footage on YouTube. Nick was a mystical character in the sense that in the band he was the vocal arranger and the bass player and bass singer. He wasn’t in the forefront. It was tricky but I feel like I know enough about him, the kind of person he was, his music and that genre of music to amalgamate what I think Nick Massi is. I’ve seen Matt Nalton, who plays Nick Massi in London, and I’ve tried not to copy him or the original guy I saw; I’ve put my spin on it.
|Lewis in Jersey Boys|
How have the audiences been responding so far? Audiences love Jersey Boys and are always up on their feet at the end!
You know what? I’ve seen the show in London and there’s this massive vibe – but now being on the other side of the lights and being able to look out at the crowd is incredible. Manchester have gone absolutely mental! So far we’ve never not had a standing ovation and I think that’s a team effort. I went into the pub one night after the show - medicinal purposes of course [laughs] – and a couple of people who had been in the audience realised that we were having a drink in the corner. They came over and we spent about forty-five minutes talking to them, they could not believe they had such a production in their town! It’s great that we’re taking this West End product on the road and bringing it to towns and cities all around the UK.
What is the key to Jersey Boys’ success?
It’s such a brilliantly, well written and scripted play. A lot of people describe it as a play with music, which is a real cliché [laughs]. If you were going to take out all the musical numbers you would have a standalone stage play with this unbelievable back catalogue of Rock ‘n’ Roll hits. This is not a jukebox musical. Nothing against jukebox musicals, but this show needs to be credited with a bit more than that. The regional theatre audiences are just loving it and lapping it up.
You’re no stranger to doing UK Tours, how do you find life on the road?
I’ll be honest, it has its perks… anyone who has toured before knows you just roll with the punches. You can’t expect to live a life of luxury – it is show business at the end of the day and it’s not all glamour… but I couldn’t care less! I would perform this show and be part of this company if we were living in a stable and performing in a shed! That’s genuine! I’ve never been happier to be on the road, I’m absolutely loving it. Like you say I’ve toured before so know what I’ve let myself in for.
As a fan of The Four Seasons, is it possible for you to pick a favourite number from the show?
Oh my… can I give you my top three?
[laughs] Go for it!
I would have to say ‘Beggin’’ because it comes at point in the show where the cracks start to emerge in the band. That’s where the drama really starts to cook and you can feel the tension. I’ve got to pick a ballad so I’ll say either ‘Fallen Angel’ or ‘My Eyes Adored You’ – I think ‘My Eyes Adored You’ because it’s sung beautifully by Tim Driesen and Matt Corner who play and alternate Frankie Valli (respectively); I get to lap it up every night. My third choice is ‘Who Loves You’ partly because it’s the finale and partly because it’s got a very modern feel to it, but it’s still a classic Four Seasons song. Also, on a personal level, I love ‘Who Loves You’ because that was the song my parents met and were dating to. I’m on stage performing ‘Who Loves You’ as homage to Nick Massi for regional theatre audiences around the UK whilst thinking about mum and dad at the same time!
Lewis Griffiths, Tim Driesen, Sam Ferriday and Stephen Webb
And whilst we’re on the subject of favourite songs, I have to ask which three musical theatre songs you would take with you to a desert island..?
Oh no! Not desert island discs! I’m not ready for this! Oh my god… there is such a massive variety of songs I could choose. I will have to go back to my own previous experiences and pick songs from shows I’ve been involved with. I would have to take ‘Seasons Of Love’ from Rent… oh god! This is tough and my mind has gone blank [laughs]. Regrettably I’ve never been in Les Mis – I would love to do it – but I want to say ‘Bring Him Home’. My third and final choice… I want to go upbeat… I’ve got Saturday Night Fever in my head and I don’t know why. I know – I’ll take Eyes Look Your Last / The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In) from Hair. Technically it is one song!
It must be lovely to know there’s such dedicated support behind you from theatre fans?
Jersey Boys fans are incredibly loyal. They’re not just musical theatre fans, they are old and young – there are people who grew up listening to this music, theatre fans, Rock ‘n’ Roll fans and you’ve also got the new generation of people who are discovering this old music. We now have bands like The Overtones who are bringing back the old style doo-wop genre. People come and see the show not knowing about the backstory or history or legacy of these four boys. Like I’ve said, it really is an honour and a privilege to be part of this family and I thank all the fans so far for being so enthusiastic and optimistic about the tour. I’m very grateful!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Please visit www.jerseyboysuktour.com for Jersey Boys tour dates, information and tickets.
Read our recent interview with Michael Watson who plays Frankie Valli in the West End production of Jersey Boys
Photo Credit 2-4: Helen Maybanks