Interview with Richard Hester, Jersey Boys Production Supervisor
Posted on 07/04/2019
Go behind the music and inside the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the Tony® and Grammy Award®-winning true-life musical phenomenon, Jersey Boys, returning to The State Dec 3-4. Production Supervisor Richard Hester - who has been with the show since it's initial try-out in at La Jolla - joins us to discuss how the show has been staged all over the world and just what goes into casting Frankie Valli.
Read the Transcribed Interview Below
with Bert, Kelly, and Hanna from All Access and special guest Richard Hester.
Bert: We’re back on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey! And Kel and Hanna, I- I don’t know about you two, but I still feel the excitement of the last time Jersey Boys was at State Theatre. And now, here we are again, it’s coming back again very soon as part of the Broadway season for this year. Can you believe it, or what?
Kelly: No! And if I remember correctly, Bert, you said “Oh, what a night" so many times!
Bert: I yes I actually had, uh, people were telling me to stop saying it was getting, like, annoying. But wh-what a great night it was, and it’s coming back in December, and I’m so excited!
Kelly: Yes! December 3 and 4 Jersey Boys is making its way back to New Brunswick at the State Theatre for the 2019-2020 Broadway Season, so exciting to have this part of our, our big season. And with us today is the production supervisor for Jersey Boys, Richard Hester! Welcome, Richard!
Richard: Hi guys! Thanks, thanks for having me!
Kelly: Yeah! So, Richard, tell us a little bit about your background and, uh, how you landed this amazing show!
Richard: Well, I was the original stage manager on Jersey Boys when we first started it 15 years ago in La Jolla.
Richard: And then moved with it to Broadway. And then as things went on, I started supervising all of the rest of the companies and staging them using Des's original staging, obviously, Des is our director. And I currently am, I’m, kind of responsible for maintaining and upkeeping all of the companies of Jersey Boys all over the world.
Kelly: Wow! I mean this is, this is really the type of show you work your entire career to get, and you got it! I mean that’s just super amazing. Um, you know, for, for us having it in New Jersey is, it was something, definitely something special. And to have a New Jersey premiere was kind of strange and exciting at the same time. Um, but about this tour, so this is kind of wrapping up, right? The Jersey Boys tour is kind of the wrap up for a while?
Richard: Well, we thought we were wrapping up! But, that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’re uh, we’re going to continue on, we’re going to take a brief hiatus this summer. Uh, over the summer, and then we’re gonna continue on. Uh, every time it seems like Jersey Boys is going to stop, there’s a new interest a new resurgence of it and there’s a slice of the old go again!
Hanna: There you go! So out of curiosity, just since you manage all of the Jersey Boys productions, about, on average, how many is that?
Richard: Um, well, over the 15 years, I think we’ve had...over 20 different productions. And even the productions like the tour have gone through different incarnations. Um, some of it we’ve had to adjust so that we can place more venues and move quicker and, uh, we even have a version on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, that has some of the material edited, some of the story is edited. The music’s all there, but the story is edited so that it can fit into a cruise ship – kind of – situation. So, it’s been an amazing ride going from like the full-blown Broadway production to large tour to a smaller tour and we also have our Off-Broadway production running in New York now. And they’re all telling the same story, they’re all the same Jersey Boys. But each one has had to been adjusted for the environment that it’s in.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean and uh, being with Jersey Boys for so many years, there has to be so many amazing moments for you. And of course ups and downs and, and stops and starts I guess in many ways. What have been some of the most memorable moments, Jersey Boys moments for you?
Richard: Well, the very first time that I staged the show on my own, but in Holland, where all the actors were speaking Dutch. And that was amazing. There were, the music was in English, and the script was in Dutch. And I realized that as we went through, I knew the show so well that I could actually tell when they were dropping lines. Because acting is acting, and the story is the story! And, it was really, kind of, an eye-opening experience to realize that this story works everywhere. And that was, to me, that was a really exciting experience. We’ve had so many, you know, ridiculous moments throughout the years, that as a result of Jersey Boys playing for the Superbowl one year! And, um, stuff like that that really is you can’t believe that it’s happening when you’re there.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean that sounds pretty crazy! Uh, I guess it kind of shows the mass appeal that, worldwide right? Mass appeal that Jersey Boys have. I mean, you must, you must be finding generations of fans out there. That maybe didn’t even know the music, you know, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons? Or that have been lifelong fans in different countries! Right? I mean, it must be quite interesting to see the fans throughout the world.
Richard: Absolutely! And what’s amazing is that these songs are huge hits all over the world. Um, I, um, was working with one of the actors we just hired to play one of the Seasons, Bob Gaudio, and he said to me, “Oh, I’m so excited to do this show! It’s the first thing I ever saw when I was ten.”
Richard: You know, three days later when I started speaking to him again..haha!
Kelly: Hahahah! Now, of course, before Jersey Boys you had a lot of experience with different shows from Cabaret to The Sweet Smell of Success to Gypsy, right? Um, so how did that prepare you for this long haul, I guess, with Jersey Boys?
Richard: Well I've been so fortunate to work with so many truly remarkable directors. And people like, Sam Mendes, and Nick Heightner, and just massive Broadway directors. Graziella Danielle and Julie Taymore. And, I’ve seen a lot of these big shows put together. And after we did Jersey Boys in La Jolla, the first national tour of Wicked, and I, which was right at the beginning of if, sort of, taking over the world. And, so, when it came time for us to take over the world, I sort of saw what needed to be done in terms of how, how you maintain the integrity of the show. Once when I was touring with Phantom of the Opera, the mantra with Phantom of the Opera is wherever you see Phantom of the Opera, it should look as good as it does on Broadway. And you should have, the audience should have the same experience. And that’s something that we’ve brought to Jersey Boys. So no matter where you see Jersey Boys, it’s our job, as the people maintaining the show, to make sure that if you get one experience of Jersey Boys and it’s in New Brunswick, you are seeing a show that’s every bit as good as the show that was on Broadway, and give the audience the same experience, that same thrill, and the same transportation, if you will, into, sort of, this amazing world. And that’s been the challenge, because sometimes we say, “Okay, well, here we are, we’re gonna be on a boat, and you only have an hour and a half instead of two hours to tell the story.” And I, one of the things I think I’m proudest of in terms of what we’ve done, is that, that is the case. I mean, our, our cast are fantastic no matter where they are. And it’s a thrill to work with them all over the world.
Hanna: Yeah! So you mentioned you worked on these juggernauts like Jersey Boys, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and you also have a number of shows under your belt that people may not know as much about, or they may not have had a chance to see Titanic, The Secret Garden, things like that. Do you find that your job has to change when you’re working on one of those big juggernauts that have kind of has been running and you know it’s going to continue running versus a show that maybe is, kind of, fighting to find its place in the theatre world?
Richard: Well, sometimes, when you’re working on a show, you, don’t, I mean, obviously, every time you’re working on a show, you have no idea whether the show is going to be successful or not. Some of the biggest hits I thought I was working on closed opening night. And some of the things that I’ve thought really didn’t have a chance...and quite frankly, between you and me, Jersey Boys was one of those.
Richard: I literally thought it was going to be a two month gig in La Jolla, and then the end of La Jolla I would have to go and find another job, 15 years ago. Um, and, the, it just didn’t seem like a likely hit. And then once we started working on it, we all knew it was going to be amazingly successful. But some of the smaller productions I’ve worked on had been equally huge. Titanic was a massive production!
Richard: And it was very successful, it won the Tony® Award that year. And I think for we’re about due for a revival of it.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, yeah! There you go!
Hanna: We’re like, “Yes! Bring back Titanic!”
Kelly: Throwing it out there! So, so Richard, um, uh, you had made the transition from stage manager to production supervisor, I guess it was during the Broadway leg, I guess? Um, and, so what, tell us the difference between the two roles.
Richard: Well, the stage manager takes care of everything that’s involved in the show every day on a daily basis. So we get to the theater, we make sure, you know, if somebody is ill and not gonna be there, that everybody knows who’s on for understudies and all that. And then we run the actual performance. So somebody is backstage calling all the light cues, and automation cues, and maintaining the show going out on a daily basis. Uh, the production stage manager will call a couple of shows a week, and, calling the light cues. On the other days, an assistant will call the show, and the production stage manager goes out front and makes sure that it’s all, you know, running smoothly. Then, as a supervisor, what I do is every six weeks or so, I go in, and see the show, and take notes, and be a kind of an outside eye on that. But then also I’m the person who’s doing the casting of the show. Finding, new people to take over, and setting up the schedule for rehearsing them and getting them in. Somebody is always getting married or getting another job.
Richard: or, um, you know, the, the show, the cast is always fairly fluid on the show. Those, they sign term contracts, and at the end of the term, either we can replace them or they can replace themselves. So, the I’m, I let the production stage manager of each company take care of their company. And then I do my best to sort of guide them in the direction that the director wants.
Kelly: Now, uh, so, that’s, I, you know, um, stage manager obviously, like, you’re down in it, right? You’re in the thick of things. You’re, you’re, like you’re saying, is like every - all the little details...do you miss it? Do you miss it sometimes?
Richard: The, I, I sometimes miss it. The, I, the eight performances a week, I mean, you really get in there. And there are, some of my deepest lifelong friendships are with actors and technicians and other stage managers that I’ve been in the trenches with, day in and day out. But I will say I love having some of my life back by not having to do eight performances a week.
Kelly: Hahaha, yeah...yeah.
Hanna: There you go!
Richard: When we’re in rehearsal for so long, you know,
Richard: You’re in there six days a week. Um, morning, noon, and night and teching and the, uh, I certainly get the, that, still. Um, it’s just not the daily-ness of having to run the show. And there are times where I definitely miss that.
Hanna: Alright! So having Jersey Boys back again and learning a little bit about the show, can you give us a little bit of an example of what happens at Frankie Camp before someone gets an opportunity to come into the cast!
Richard: Absolutely! So one, one of the challenges of this is that every company has three or four people in the company who can play Frankie Valli because that role is so difficult, it’s very difficult for someone to do every performance every week. And it’s a little bit like an Olympic athlete. If you are slightly injured, you really can’t do what you need to do. And, so, especially with these guys on tour, whether sometimes, playing five, six cities a week, it’s a, you know, you’re changing environments. And you’re, the voice is very delicate. And these guys are powerhouses! But, even so, they’re subject to what’s going on there. So the, for Frankie, we’ve got to find guys who are 5’9” or shorter, they have to be able to control their falsetto, and make it so it’s a sound that you want to hear. A lot of people can sing falsetto, but it’s not a sound that anybody wants to listen to.
Kelly and Hanna: Hahaha!
Richard: It’s gotta be a lyrical falsetto. And, so these guys not only have to be able to sing that, but they have to be able to dance. Because the show, these guys dance almost half the time they’re on the stage! And they have to be able to act. They have to, they have to age from 14 to 70 over the course of the show. And they have to look vaguely Mediterranean. We, I mean, we got a lot of leeway of that, but vaguely it has to...a lot of people know Frankie Valli. They know what he looks like.
Richard: They gotta suggest the guy, at least.
Richard: And, so, what happens is, we uh, we, over, we’re required to have open calls there, and we see people for various different productions. And we keep lists. And so, when we get a nice chunk of people, about 50 or 60 guys, that, that pinchly could be Frankie, will then have a day or two where we bring them in, and out of that group, we pick, um, as many as ten of those guys to further develop. And we send them to, what we call, “Frankie Camp!” So Frankie Camp is like a week long, um, work with these guys where we spend, I spend an hour one-on-one with each one of them working on the acting. Are associate choreographer, Danny Austin, spends a full day just dancing them, different styles of the show and seeing what they can do, what they can’t do, what they can pick up. And Katie Agresta is our vocal coach, does exercises with them for two days, and really works on the music. And so at the end of that week, we have a much better sense of what these guys can do. From those ten guys, there’s maybe two, maybe three of them we feel are ready to actually to be put in front of the director to see “here’s the guys that we think can actually play this part.” So, it’s a huge dwindling down process, but for us, really, it’s a way to – one audition is difficult to tell if somebody’s gonna be able to do it. You really go in this in-depth way, and, we have a much better sense that, yes, this guy has the stamina to actually pull this off, and make it look effortless.
Richard: That’s the key.
Kelly: Well, there you go, the demanding role of Frankie Valle! The show is Jersey Boys December 3 and 4, thank you Richard Hester, production supervisor for Jersey Boys for being here with us today, and uh we’re looking forward to December!
Richard: We are, too! It’s always great to play Jersey!