Chicago native Eric Chambliss is currently in his second year touring with Jersey Boys, playing the role of songwriting legend Bob Gaudio of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, which comes to DC’s National Theatre Tuesday, December 17 through Sunday, January 5. This role of a lifetime matches the excitement of other well-known characters Chambliss has played, including George from Sunday in the Park with George and Perchik from Fiddler on The Roof, his Broadway debut. From performing in front of Gaudio himself during last summer’s special premier in Atlantic City to a surreal moment performing in front of his hometown crowd, Chambliss is thrilled to see “how DC likes a taste of Jersey.”
OT: What would you say to people who aren’t familiar with Jersey Boys or Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito?
EC: Whether people realize it or not, they know so much more of this stuff than they realize. Bob is a smart guy and has made sure his music was a part of movies and commercials, it’s really been disseminated amazingly well. [The show] also stands alone as incredible music and they were part of an era where they were one of the only groups to survive Beatlemania. I learned more about them through this show. This is such a great way to encapsulate their story and it’s unpolished, honest and it really is a cool way to bring people into the lives of the people that created this music and give them the backstory of what they already know and love.
OT: We saw a photo of you and Bob on your Instagram and were wondering the backstory behind that. Did he come to see the show?
EC: That photo was taken in Atlantic City, we premiered the show there last summer. It was a big deal. That’s where they started, they gained a lot of traction performing there. That’s their stomping ground. That meant a lot to him for it to be there so he made it a point to come out for the beginning of that [tour] to see us off. It was really pretty amazing to meet him. We did a rehearsal kind of just for him, which I tried to put out of my mind and just do my show. Do what i know what i do. It’s not until the end of the show where each of the four of us has one last address to the audience which sums up the life that we’ve lived and what that was to have this career and this success. Telling the guy who’s life your talking about to his face is a surreal experience I have to say.
OT: What have you learned about Gaudio while playing the role of him?
EC: Just playing the role of him is very informative. This is a guy that was so smart on the go and he learned as he experienced. He started out with”Short Shorts,” the song he wrote when he was 15 years old, he toured with it and made good money with it but he ended up not being one with rights to it in the end because he didn’t know the business very well. He learned some valuable lessons as a kid. He’s the last piece of the puzzle, as the script says. It really is his insight and his knowledge that took them to seize the right opportunities to advance them into the chance to get to play these hits. They really go from ground zero to mega stars practically over night. I would say that ambition and that insight is very inspiring.
OT: Is there anything in particular that you admire about him?
EC: He is just a grounded and relatable guy. He was very complimentary of the job we’re doing – this is also after a year of touring, so we had a pretty good understanding that we’re in good hands when it comes to the show. [During our conversation] He went right to relating about touring. To not be a figure head over us, but to say, ‘We’re in this together. I’ve been there, hotel to hotel room.’ The fact that he could be that brilliant and that grounded is pretty amazing to me.
OT: You’ve mentioned that he’s pretty inspiring. What does playing the character of Bob Gaudio mean to you?
EC: It’s a huge honor, playing any of these guys is a huge honor. We get to be the ambassadors for their story each night, and embody these rockstars. That’s a real good feeling. They’re also brave enough to tell some pretty hard truths and you want to represent that well. It’s a big honor to be a part of it because it means a lot to a lot of people. The music, the place and time, there’s so much nostalgia and memory packed in that and representing well is a lesson I’ve learned.
OT: What’s you favorite scene and what’s your favorite song in the show?
EC: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is my favoring song. There’s a nice little section of multiple scenes right before it, showing just how difficult it was to get that song on the air. Bob had to fight for it. He had to go to a record label, the station manager, and pretty much just fight all the odds because no one wanted the song to succeed, but he fought hard enough and his own money behind it, and the chance to put it out there and it ended up being one of their most famous and loved songs.
OT: Tell us about the range of work that goes into this production as it tours from city to city.
EC: Certainly it’s not without its tough times. You’re pretty much a family on the road, what’s interesting in that experience is your talking about guys touring and the difficulties of the road. So it’s very much like imitating the life and you kind of lose track of where that ends and begins and vice versa. What I love about theater is that it’s such a collaborative art form. Everyone has a purpose and everyone’s job is as important as the others. The actors can’t do what they do unless these elements from the technical side are in place. When it all comes together and it’s genuinely seamless, that’s one of the most magical things about theater. The nature of how a perfect collaboration can create an experience that stands on its own.
OT: What’s an impactful message from Jersey Boys that you hope the DC audience will take away?
EC: I think it’s cool because it’s a story about some guys that come from a pretty rough background and a tough neighborhood to rise out of. Right in the beginning of the show, the character Tommy DeVito states there were three ways out: You could join the army, get mobbed up or you can become a star. The stakes were pretty high from the get-go. These are all either direct Italian immigrants or sons and daughters of Italian immigrants in these communities and they’re rough. This was a shot in the dark and wouldn’t have happened if four guys didn’t come together and happen to find the right sound, blend and songs and test the right opportunity to be launched into fame. It’s an aspirational story, anyone can achieve anything from anywhere and that should be remembered.
See Jersey Boys at the National Theatre from Tuesday, December 17 through Sunday, January 5. Tickets and showtimes available at www.thenationaldc.com.
The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC