Jersey Boys’ Graham Fenton and Travis Cloer split time in iconic role
By Susan Stapleton
Photos by Christopher DeVargas
A casual observer may not notice how much Frankie Valli works in Jersey Boys. He sings 20 songs in that trademark falsetto that skyrocketed the Four Seasons into stardom. He dances in sync with his three bandmates. He goes on an emotional roller coaster of love won and lost and won and lost. He’s the main character, onstage for the entire two hours and 10 minutes, with an intermission, of the show.
“It’s a marathon out there,” says Graham Fenton, one of the two actors playing Frankie Valli in the show about the Four Seasons’ 40-year association that catapulted the quartet from four blue-collar guys who were friends in Newark, N.J., to becoming superstars of song just before The Beatles hit the United States. “This is a small club that we’re part of.”
Songs in the Paris Las Vegas production range from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ first hit “Sherry,” follow-up hits “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” to later hits “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “My Eyes Adored You.”
“This music, and especially Frankie’s voice, is so iconic,” says Travis Cloer, who evenly splits time with Fenton playing the role. “The producers have found they can trust us both with splitting the role. We have some monster shoes to step into. Pretty much from the middle of the first act on, it’s all about Frankie.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of the role is the climate in Las Vegas. The dry air takes a toll on both actors’ voices, and, as many a local will share, they each have allergies. “It’s nice to have somebody to complain with or sympathize with,” Fenton says. “‘Oh, my allergies. It’s so dry out. They’re really killing me.’ It’s nice to know that I’m not crazy heading to the theater.”
Both actors are given cues by the producers on nuances to hit during the course of the show. “I think one of the biggest challenges might lie with the rest of the cast,” Fenton says. “They’re on stage eight times a week. We’re only on four. … We’re not drastically different, although I do a weird interpretive dance in the second act,” he jokes. Both admit that they’ve never seen the other perform the role. They’re too tired.
Cloer says alternating the role started when the show was on Broadway and John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, was playing the role and needed a break to rest his voice. “They realized that kind of role (had) never been done,” Cloer says. Young went on to perform six nights a week with a protégé performing matinees.
While it’s unusual to split the lead role, it’s not unheard of in Broadway shows. During Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular’s six-year run at The Venetian, the role of Christine Daaé was split between two actresses.
”(You) stay healthy and get a break when you needed it,” Cloer says.