Five Things (Give or Take) About … "Jersey Boys" and its Star, Joseph Leo Bwarie
In which I chat up "Frankie Valli"
Joseph Leo Bwarie originated the role of Frankie Valli in the Vegas rendition of Jersey Boys and then hit the road with the iconic role. He's been at it for more than four years. And now he's back, as Broadway Lights presents the popular show — for the second time — from Feb 22-March 11. Details.
Bwarie, who's also been in Highway to Heaven, Mama's Family, The Addams Family, Radio Flyer, and Batman Returns talked to me from — where else? — the road.
1. This is Bwarie's second time in the QC as Frankie; he sang on the Blumenthal stage as the leader of the Four Seasons during the group's 2010 tour. He said he enjoys Charlotte and North Carolina quite a lot. "There's a young energy there, which I like because I'm a younger person myself," he said. "North Carolina has beautiful countryside, but there's also an exploding city life [in Charlotte]. I drive myself on tour, so I see every highway. In fact, I might need to take my Honda into the shop while I'm in Charlotte."
Bwarie is a big fan of Asheville and even introduced his sister and brother to the city and the Biltmore House.
2. Favorite Four Seasons song: "I've seen saying it for four years, and it's still true. I love Working My Way Back to You. I also love Beggin', which is in Act II. With both these songs, I love the vibe, the groove, and the lyrics."
3. He's performed at the Tony Awards and the Oscars. Bwarie did his Frankie Valli thing at the Tony Awards, but long before that, he graced the stage at the Academy Awards. "I loved doing the Tonys, but I have to say performing at the Academy Awards as a kid was even cooler," he said. "Even though I was only about thirteen, I knew what a big deal it was to meet Bob Hope backstage. It was at the Shrine Auditorium in dirty, old L.A., and it was wonderful. Debbie Allen did the choreography and the direction. It was unreal. I was in a number called "Somewhere in my Memory" from Home Alone. John Williams wrote it … To see that many celebrities being wrangled into one area — all the A-listers and the handlers, the crews with their headsets — as a kid and a performer, it was just incredible.
4. He says the Frankie Valli story still endures today because it's "necessary." He said, "It resonates with every age group. Young people learn from it. And it takes Boomers back to the where they grew up. It's a piece of Americana."
"We're all captured by celebrity," he continued. "If we weren't, there wouldn't be forty-five shows on now about finding the next big singer. But what Jersey Boys says is that talent will always rise to the top, even when it's found on a street corner."
"These guys were real," he said. "They sang, they played their own instruments, they wrote their own music. They literally pressed 'record' and sang. It was raw, and it was good. People felt it then, and audiences still feel it now."
5. One essential fact about Frankie Valli: He's still on tour today. "And he's still playing to sold-out arenas," Bwarie said.
6. Bwarie stays interested in playing Frankie Valli because it's not all he does. "I step away from the show," he said. "I work on projects that are not Jersey Boys. My current pride and joy is the album I recorded in June of last year called Nothin' But Love. It's cover songs that represent ninety years of music from the 1920s through 2000, but they're all arranged in my favorite style — Big Band. It smokes; it's awesome."
"I'm especially excited to perform the album in its entirety at this year's South By Southwest festival in Austin," he said.
And, since Jersey Boys is such a part of Bwarie's life, it's not surprising that the album has a connection to the musical. Legendary Four Seasons producer Charles Calello also produced Nothin' But Love. Bwarie said he came to respect Valli even more after making his own record. "When it's just you standing in front of the mic, you've got to get it right. I now better understand the responsibility Frankie Valli felt to the music."