Written by Andrea Braun Wednesday, 11 May 2011 20:17
"You see the guys out there who obviously got dragged there, and then they’re dancing in the aisles and pumping their arms."
“And by the way, it's pronounced 'go-VAY-uh' . . . It's Portuguese . . . It has all the vowels . . . I'm keeping it.” So says the versatile actor/singer/musician/songwriter Steve Gouveia on the homepage of his eponymous website, www.stevegouveia.com. It may be hard to pronounce, but once you’ve seen him onstage or heard his solo album Shine, I doubt you’ll forget it.
Gouveia has been with the Tony-winning smash hit Jersey Boys off and on since it began in San Diego at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004. Besides Broadway’s top award, the cast album won a Grammy and has gone platinum. In the touring production running May 11-29 at the Fox Theatre, he plays Nick Massi, as he did when the show first played the Fabulous Fox in 2008. That engagement drew 88,000 theatre-goers, a record audience.
Jersey Boys isn’t a traditional musical; rather, the term most often used to describe it is a “jukebox musical.” It depicts the story of The Four Seasons (later Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons) through staging their concert performances. The script deals with their backstage lives, but it’s not one of those old-fashioned “stop talking and sing a song now” shows. Gouveia’s character, Nick, was the bass singer and guitarist for the group. Born in 1927, he and another of the “boys,” Tommy DeVito, knocked 8 years off their real ages to appeal to younger fans. He also handled the group’s arrangements from their beginnings as The Four Lovers in 1958 through their reimagining as The Four Seasons during the years of the group’s greatest hits in the early 1960s. Massi left in 1965.
Will you straighten out the confusion over Wikipedia, which never mentions you in any incarnation of the show?
What? Really? Do you add yourself to it [Wikipedia]? I started out in the band and understudying the actor then playing Nick. A year later, I was invited to step into the role in New York.
I find it hard to think anybody wouldn’t like Jersey Boys. Still, there are some holdouts. I described it to a reluctant friend as a “concert with a backstory.” Would you agree?
That’s exactly what we tell everyone. When we finish the show every night, it’s hard to find anybody who’s not having a good time. We don’t even think about the music at all when we’re doing the show. It’s about these guys in a band and they’ve got these great songs. The songs are so popular, but they’ve got a whole other life of their own. And when you’re telling the story, that’s what you’re thinking about: telling the story.
Conversely, then, when you’re doing the songs, are you thinking about the story?
Yeah, you do. But the way you spin the songs, whether we’re in a bar or a concert, we are thinking about them, not [something like] “Oh, I’m playing this big hit from 1964 by this famous band.” You’re thinking about the situation you’re in, or at least I am.
It would seem artificial if you weren’t looking at it that way. Since you’re playing a real guy, how do you see Nick Massi?
It’s interesting. Since he passed away before the show was written [Massi died in 2000], we based it on a lot of people’s memories of him. Over the course of time, I’ve pieced together what I think his role was from all these stories, and I’ve had people say, “I think what you’re doing is great. That’s exactly the way I remember him.” I was actually very flattered when Nick Massi, Jr. came to see the show in Florida a couple of months ago, and he loved what I’d done. So I feel like I’m getting it right. I don’t know—I’ve always kind of thought of him, since he’s the bass player in the band, he’s usually the guy who stands in the back and kind of observes. There aren’t a lot of bass-driven bands, [where the bassist is] the highest profile one. There are all the women at night, but he’s not the flashiest one in the band. I use stuff from musician friends to flesh him out too.
The show addresses the stories about drugs and the mob. Was Nick Massi involved in all that?
Nick and Tommy [DeVito] were older than the other guys, and he had played in other bands before The Four Seasons, and he was involved in crime and drugs when the band hit, so he was certainly involved in all that stuff. I forget the combined jail time between him and Tommy DeVito, but it was a lot.
In the show, Tommy is the flashier of the two.
That was my take on it. I was thinking, “well, you’ve written the bass player as kind of the quieter type who has some outbursts and some observations of the group,” but really it inspired me to really make him work—to stand out. I don’t think he’s the best written of the four, and I think anyone would agree with that. So, it was a bit of a challenge to really make Nick stand out as something besides just this other guy, and I think I’ve done that. That’s what keeps me interested, at least.
How do you keep a performance fresh when you’ve been in a show for so long? What do you do to get ready for it every day? Sometimes do you just want to stay home and, oh, watch American Idol or something?
Sure, I’d like to stay home sometimes. For example, when we do a show at one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, we’re just doing it on Starbuck’s coffee. But that’s being a professional about it. And because we know this show so well, and this company has been together for a while, we know exactly how each person works. And it just becomes this big well-oiled machine, so you don’t really think about the lines or the dance steps anymore, you just think about keeping it honest, which is really kind of fun. I had my drama teacher from high school ask me about that a few years ago, and I honestly don’t know how to answer. Once you’re in the situation and you hear the audience reacting and listening and laughing and gasping and all that stuff, then you know they’re really listening and that makes you want to be honest—to be telling the story. And I’m going to tell this story the best I can. And you know, it’s like any other job. Everybody’s glad when it’s Friday afternoon. For us, we’re tired Sunday night at 10. Monday’s the greatest day of the week for people in theatre.
Isn’t that often a travel day though?
Yeah. It was this week, in fact. And we’re here, and we start it all up again tomorrow night.
But isn’t it exhausting to move from town to town?
You know, that’s the best part of it. And I think anyone in the show would agree with me. One of the things that keeps the thing so fresh for us is that we know we’re going into a new venue every three or four weeks, and that’s exciting. You get really bored sitting in the same location—you’ve seen all the hot spots, you’ve eaten in the same restaurants—this way you’re constantly going somewhere else. In fact, the moment I got here, we went to Ted Drewes, we went to get some barbecue at Pappy’s—we get to go do all these things. We can’t wait to go to the City Museum again. That’s another way we stay fresh.
What else do you want to see again?
I love the Fox—I’d rather play there than some sort of early ‘80s idea of a convention hall. The collection of memorabilia backstage at the Fox—other places are painting over that. There’s only a few places like the Fox that have that much stuff; actually, the Fox has the most. The people playing here for the first time are excited when they see it all.
Are all the leads new except for you?
For St. Louis, yes. Our “six-night-a-week Frankie” [Joseph Leo Bwarie] came from the Las Vegas production, and he is fantastic—absolutely fantastic. Critics and audience members love him. He has a beautiful voice and he makes it sound effortless, which makes you want to punch him sometimes. Our other Frankie is John Michael Dias from Chicago and he has been with the show for four years, and he’s equally fantastic. We’ve got a great company. I’d venture to say the tour that is coming through [St. Louis] now is better than the one that was here three years ago. It’s a really strong cast.
Were you actually in the Broadway production?
I was in La Jolla in the first production playing Joey. When we went to New York, I was an on-stage musician and the understudy for Nick Massi. About four weeks in, there was an emergency situation and I had to go on in a part where I did not know the choreography, and there’s nothing more terrifying than being on a Broadway stage and not knowing the dance steps. But I did it, and the writers came back and they were just so blown away, and they said, “This is what we want, and we want you to play Nick, but we can’t do it right now. You’re too important to the show where you are.” So in about a year and a half, maybe, they asked me to go on the road. I think now I’ve been Nick longer than anyone else who’s done the show. My friend Peter started in La Jolla and he’s still with the New York show, as is the band; they all started with the La Jolla show too. There’s a core group of us that are still hanging in there. But why are you going to leave a great job?
How long is this particular tour going to run?
You know what? Amazingly there is no end in sight. And a job like that in theatre is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We’re already booked out two years. And the shortest we’ve ever run is three weeks, and we played 10 weeks in Philadelphia and Boston. It’s amazing how popular the show is. From 80-year-old people down to 12-year-olds, it’s amazing—I don’t even know why people love it so much and come back so often.
What about the people you leave behind to tour? Do you miss your family?
I’m on vacation in a couple of weeks, and I’ll visit then. There are 60 people in this show, and we’ve become a family. These are the friends I have now. And with cell phones, it’s pretty easy to keep in touch. When I’m off the road for a few days though, my girlfriend says I’m different. More laid back, I guess.
I was listening to your album, and your voice is nowhere near bass. How do you do that for the show?
It’s so funny; our director thought I had an operation. He plays in a band with us back home. I do sing the high stuff, but it’s actually kind of nice to sing the low stuff—easier on the voice.
When you did Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in the late ‘90s, you had to be able to get up there vocally too.
Oh, yeah. That show was really fun. But somebody said that when Buddy sang, he was always trying to sound like Elvis. So you’ve got this Texas twang and a skinny kid trying to sound like Elvis? It made his voice unique. You can hear that though, and you go with it. The show was like Jersey Boys in that you went out there and did the concert every night.
Could I ask which of the two shows is your favorite, or is that like asking you to choose between your children?
Oh, not at all. Jersey Boys is my favorite. It changed my life. It’s a great show to do and it’s very similar—I’ve always done rock-and-roll, and to help be a part of the creative team that makes a musical was exciting. You think you have a job for ten weeks, and then people are standing three deep in the aisle in San Diego because they’ve heard it’s so great. Then it gets picked up for New York, and you wait for that phone call, which you might not get but you do, and you’re told to show up Monday for rehearsals . . . Then your poster goes up in Times Square, you’re on the backs of busses, you win the Tony, you show up on Letterman—it’s just this crazy, crazy ride. It’s been really great for all of us.
I’m amazed at the level of enthusiasm you still have.
It’s just fun. I think the main thing is that we’ve all done crappy shows, but this? You don’t have to sell this. If you’re going to tell a joke in Jersey Boys, it’s so well written you know it’s funny. The music? You don’t even have to think about that because you know it’s going to get people excited and happy. For me it’s just a fun job. When I get tired and think oh, I can’t do this anymore, then I remember how great it really is. I could be working at Starbuck’s every morning at 6 a.m., but instead I get to go out there every night and make people laugh and smile.
I think you just answered your own question about why people come back all the time.
Yeah, and when you see the guys out there who obviously got dragged there and then they’re dancing in the aisles and pumping their arms . . .
Anything else you want to do after this?
I’m not thinking about that. They pay me well, and they ask me to stay.
What about the solo career? Did you write all the songs on Shine?
Yes, I decided to just put all the music down together with a friend in Tampa. When people ask me why I’m not promoting it, I just have to tell them that I don’t have the energy to go into a bar on Monday nights and play to four people. Not right now. I like to write music and I’ll continue writing songs. I’ll always do it, and I always have, but Jersey Boys gave me a real job in theatre. When I stop and think about all the things I’ve gotten to do and people I’ve met—our faces on tee shirts. We just got our fleet of trucks with banners on them; they’re beautiful. It’s like we’ve become Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey. It’s so crazy how everything grows around you.
Your enthusiasm is certainly infectious.
Well, the enthusiasm is real, and as I said, we get to do relatively long runs. We can stop and sit in cities for a little bit. And it helps to know that I helped create this. There are a lot of reasons to be happy about it, and I am. I’ll ride the show as long as I can. I’m so glad to be back here [in St. Louis] with Jersey Boys. | Andrea Braun
Jersey Boys was originally produced in San Diego, CA at the La Jolla Playhouse. It is directed by two-time Tony award-winner Des McAnuff, written by Academy Award-winner Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and choreographyby Sergio Trujillo. It will be at the Fox Theatre from May 11-29. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com.
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