Sept. 19--Wanted: a leading man shorter than 5 feet 9 who can pass for Italian. Must be able to act, dance and sing falsetto. Also must have charisma to fill an iconic role. Requires many auditions and a training camp.
After an apprenticeship, Nick Cosgrove finally filled the bill to play the lead role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, which has returned for an encore run through Sept. 29 in the Ohio Theatre. The musical was also staged here in 2011.
"This is my dream role in my dream show," said Cosgrove, who stands 5 feet 8.
"I'd always vocalized that I wanted to be in this show -- first, because of the music; and second, because it's a story of family and brotherhood."
Winner of four 2006 Tony awards, including best musical, Jersey Boys charts the ups and downs of the blue-collar New Jersey quartet that became famous as the Four Seasons.
Among the hit songs in the "jukebox" musical: Big Girls Don't Cry, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Fallen Angel, Let's Hang On, Rag Doll, Sherry and Walk Like a Man.
"I grew up with this music," said Cosgrove, 25.
"The main challenge is doing justice to both the music and the storytelling while Frankie is still alive and performing himself. It's like running a marathon every night."
Cosgrove wouldn't be touring in Jersey Boys without having honed his skills at a "Frankie Camp," held periodically at New York rehearsal studios to train candidates in playing the pivotal falsetto role.
"Nick is an amazing guy," said production supervisor Richard Hester, who leads the camps.
"He has a beautiful singing voice, and he's a fantastic dancer and has great facility as an actor."
After undergoing eight auditions during the course of a year, Cosgrove went through the camp about two years ago.
"Nick was young, in terms of our general Frankies, but he genuinely has what I would describe as a dark soul or an old soul," Hester said.
First, the casting team auditions potential cast members throughout the country. Once six or seven potential leads are spotted, they are flown to New York for Frankie Camp, which includes days of coaching sessions in acting, dancing and singing.
The actors who play Valli must age from 14 to 70 believably while singing 30 songs in falsetto.
"This is, honestly, one of the hardest roles in musical theater," Hester said.
At the camp, the performers learn the scenes and songs. For the lucky few who
advance, a final audition is held for a panel that includes the director, producers and Valli himself.
(Still touring as part of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Valli will return for another concert on Nov. 3 in the Palace Theatre.)
All four members of the Four Seasons have their moments in the show, which is structured into four "seasons," each told from the perspective of one of the guys.
But the actor portraying Valli is onstage practically the entire two acts. In addition, he must be able to handle Valli's solo masterpiece, Can't Take My Eyes Off You.
"It's the climax of the show in some ways, the climax of Frankie's career and one of his biggest hits," Hester said.
"The song takes confidence, skill and charisma."
During the camp, those traits are what Hester's creative team demands.
And strength plays a part.
"The role demands sheer stamina," Hester said. "Not only are you singing, but you're dancing at the same time without any rest in between."
Cosgrove, whose mother is Italian, found identifying with his role was simple.
"It feels like home," he said.
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