Australian actor Declan Egan recently took over as Bob Gaudio in the West End production of Jersey Boys.
Having previously played the role in Australia, Declan came into the cast as part of the musical's biggest ever cast change which saw four new Seasons join at the same time. Declan recently toured the U.S. as Standby Elder Prince in The Book of Mormon.
I recently visited Declan backstage in his dressing room at the Piccadilly Theatre to discuss why performing in the West End has always been a dream of his, what makes Jersey Boys such a joy to perform every night and whether he would want to reprise his performance in The Book of Mormon in London…
Having done Jersey Boys before in Australia, what was your reaction when you were asked to do it again here in the West End?
It was pretty… ummm… crazy! It has been two and a half years since I did the show in Australia. The thought of doing it again and making my West End debut was pretty exciting.
Had you set your sights on the West End? Had you been wanting to do a show over here?
I’m a very ambitious person, so after I finished in Jersey Boys Australia I moved to London. Even when I was in the States doing Mormon I knew I wanted to go back to London and tick the West End off my list. I don’t think it has hit me at all! I’ve just been doing the show but haven’t actually processed that I walk through Piccadilly Circus on my way to work and am performing in the West End.
When you joined it was the first time London had ever had four new Seasons taking over together. What was it like to meet them and rehearse together?
It was a really interesting process because we had a lot of people coming in from the tour. All of us starting from scratch rehearsed for the first week, and then the people from the tour came in the following week… but then they had to go back to Edinburgh for the third week… and then for the fourth week everyone came in. We had to build that connection and feeling of being a band. Getting to know the guys has been fantastic and it’s also really comforting to have Matt Hunt too. He’s also Australian and we did the show together before. He understudied Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi so I played opposite him, but to now actually be doing it with him as Nick in the West End is like coming full circle. It’s pretty surreal!
Declan and the cast of Jersey Boys
Having time away from a role and then coming back is always really interesting, do you think your performance has evolved?
Totally, I got the role when I was nineteen and started performing in Sydney when I was twenty. I was a fresh graduate and very young and naive. I don’t think my choices were as informed as they are now. I know who I am more, so it’s easier to sink into the skin of a character or another person… especially a real life person like Bob Gaudio. I think my portrayal has definitely transformed – it’s more intellectual and I feel more immersed in the world.
Did you go away and do much research when you first got the role?
Yes, I read a lot, I watched a lot of interviews on YouTube to try and see his essence. The thing is with this show, is that it’s not an impersonation. They definitely cast guys who have about 70% of the essence and then the other 30% is like tweaking your own character. I looked into where he grew up, his home life, his family and his career and focusses and goals. The show is so well written that it kind of does the work by itself. Saying the lines, you just understand exactly who Bob is… and Tommy, Nick and Frankie too. They’re really well written characters.
I love that night after night so many people still come to the show knowing the music but not knowing the story, and they’re blown away by it! It must be so fun to go out on stage and surprise people? The audiences get so into it!
Absolutely – nobody knew the back story. When people see the show for the first time they really are surprised. I don’t really know what people expect, I think some people just think 'I know ‘Sherry’ let’s go along'. They have to sit for half an hour until they hear the first number they really recognise as a hit. It’s so well formulated. People are still jumping up at the end and dancing and going crazy and having an amazing time. It is really exciting to tell that story and surprise people each night.
Do you have any favourite moments?
I think we all said that ‘Cry For Me’ is one of our favourites. It’s the first time you hear that sound, all the guys are at the piano and it’s kind of stripped back. We’re all on the instruments and connecting. Another favourite part for me is, of course, ‘Oh What A Night’. I get to lose my virginity every night [laughs]! [jokingly] That’s pretty fun! As a whole I love the arc of Bob; I get to start as a seventeen year old and by the end be this grounded, amazing music producer that has created so many different acts and worked with so many amazing people. That’s awesome.
What is it like coming into work every day? Tell me about the company vibe!
It’s a really new and exciting energy. Everyone is so happy to be at work. Everybody is coming in so excited that they get to work on this Tony and Olivier Award winning show. It’s really exciting and the energy feels young and ready to explore and find our own version of the show.
It’s a very exciting time for theatre in Australia at the moment – more and more shows are transferring from the West End and Broadway. Plus quite a few Australian performers – the likes of Ben Lewis, Anna O'Byrne, Suzie Mathers etc – have been making a name for themselves in the West End.
It’s definitely a really exciting time! Shows like Jersey Boys and Wicked were big milestones for Australian theatre, shows don’t usually play that long but they really did have good runs. The talent in Australia is amazing, it really is fantastic. There aren't as many shows, but when they’re on they are mind-blowing. It’s exactly the same standard as the West End and Broadway. Being over here, people take for granted how many shows you have in the West End. When we were in Melbourne, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was also playing as well as a couple of other musicals and that was it.
Declan, Matt Corner, Simon Bailey and Matt Hunt at the Jersey Boys gala night
I love that you’ve performed in the three main capitals for theatre – the U.S., the UK and Australia!
[laughs] I hadn’t actually thought of that until my housemate, who is also an actor, was talking about it. I’ve worked in the three main continents for theatre. It’s amazing!
Next stop Broadway..!
Wouldn’t that be amazing [laughs]? I have been very lucky.
We need to discuss The Book of Mormon. It’s an incredible show, and Elder Price is a gift of a role. People are still fighting for tickets for both those U.S. tours, what was it like to be a part of it all?
It was really amazing. I loved my time on Mormon. The process was fascinating, because I was auditioning to be in the West End production… I was down to the finals to take over from Gavin Creel. Then when I found out I didn’t get it, I was like ‘Oh ok… that really sucks’. Then they were like “If we can sort your Visa for the U.S. national tour as Standby Elder Price would you be interested?” I was like, “Ummm… yes! I would love to do that!” [laughs] It took a while, at one point we didn’t think the Visa was going to happen. I was in Germany with my family and they called me up and said, “We’ve got the Visa, can you come next month?” All of a sudden I was in New York having my costume fittings with the Broadway department, then I was in rehearsals and six weeks later I went on in Richmond, Virginia. I got to go to amazing places – three months in Chicago, two and a half months in Washington D.C., two weeks in Miami. It was a really amazing experience.
|Declan backstage at The Book of Mormon|
And because you were standby I guess you got more of a chance to explore each place?
Exactly. I really feel like I lived in Washington D.C. and Chicago because we were there for so long. I got on with the cast so well, they were such an amazing bunch and so talented. When they left a lot of them ended up going straight into the Broadway company. That’s the thing with these massive musicals – once you’re part of the family you’re part of the family. They move you around and it brings up amazing opportunities.
What was Elder Price like to play?
People say it’s like the male Elphaba [laughs]! I couldn’t believe it. When I went on for the first time and was singing ‘I Believe’ I couldn’t believe it. I should have said this before – when I left Australia to come over here I knew that The Book of Mormon wasn’t going to be going to Australia anytime soon. It was definitely on my radar, I was like ‘I’m moving to the West End because I think I’m perfect for this show and I’m going to go over all guns ablaze’. Then… skip forward, getting the role and performing it was incredible. I got to go on quite a lot, my parents got to see me like four times. As a standby you don’t have that security so never know when you’ll be on. Unfortunately the guy playing it (David Larsen) got a bit sick.
I think the role is so funny, and the show is so well written. It’s a genius show! The work is done for you… apart from the singing [laughs]. You are able to just go for it. There was a period of time where I went on for a full week, to conquer a week I was like ‘Woah – I just did that and it’s one of the hardest shows for a man to do.’ It was pretty fulfilling. I felt like a very lucky boy!
Well fingers crossed it comes up in the West End and then we all get to see you do it..!
Wouldn’t that be amazing? I would love to do it over here. I saw it for the first time over here when I won the lottery. It was my first time entering the lottery with my friend and we won it! Maybe it was fate [laughs]. I was sitting in the front row and was like , ‘This is crazy, I’m going to do this’.
I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Oh my gosh! This is very serious… I’m going to start sweating [laughs]. I would probably choose… oh gosh. Well look – ‘Defying Gravity’ because that’s a good belty number, although I would probably have to take it down a few tones [laughs]. It’s such a strong, exciting number. What’s another one I would take? ‘Being Alive’ from Company. That would keep me going. Maybe something fun and crazy? I can’t even think of shows that I love now! Oh I know. I’m going to go for ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ from The Book of Mormon! That is hilarious [laughs].
Declan and the cast of Jersey Boys
Are there any roles you have your eye on?
I would love to do Bobby in Company. I would also like to originate a role, at the moment that’s something I want to do. I’m very lucky because I feel like Bob was a role I wanted to play and then I got to do it, so was Elder Price. So I think the next thing would be to do something new.
Regardless of what continent you’re performing in, there is always so much support from theatre fans. What is it like having such dedicated support behind you?
It’s wonderful! It’s really overwhelming to have so much support from people who look up to me, because I was that person. I went on a trip with my family in 2007 to New York and I was that person waiting at stage door. Now to be on the other side is crazy. It’s wonderful, and I think everyone who is aspiring to be a performer should just go for it. If you’re looking up to people doing these jobs, don’t make apologies! Believe that you are the best and if things aren’t going right you have to remember you are your own unique self and are always going to bring something different into an audition, whether that be for an acting school or for a job. You have to keep trying! It’s so easy to get lost in this industry and feel like a number or a replacement. We all bring something unique to this world and nobody can take that away from you.
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Jersey Boys is booking at the Piccadilly Theatre to Sunday 16th April 2017.
Please visit www.jerseyboyslondon.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 2,3&6: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg
Photo Credit 4: Dan Wooller
Photo Credit 5: @Declan_Egan1 on Twitter