The phenomenon that is Jersey Boys has generated incredible fan interest in every aspect of the show. What has been most interesting to me is the accessibility of the Jersey Boys stars. From Broadway to San Francisco—and all “those places you fly over on your way to LA”—people line up at the stage door to meet these talented actors. Perhaps because they weren’t—for the most part—famous until landing these career-making roles, the major players in this show are amazingly generous with their time.
These young men and women will sometimes stand for 30 minutes or more signing autographs, answering questions and posing for pictures with their adoring fans. One of the most generous is Michael Ingersoll from the Chicago cast. Michael was cast as Nick Massi in 2006 and performed with the National Tour when it opened in San Francisco in December. He stayed with the company when it went to Los Angeles, but over the summer returned to the Bay Area to join the cast that moved to Chicago in October. Lucky guy—he and his wife live in Chicago, so he gets to go home every night after the show.
Talk to anyone who’s met Michael, and they’ll tell you how nice he is. Grounded is the word I like. He knows where he’s been, and he’s enjoying where he’s at because as he puts it, “there are no guarantees when you reach a certain point that you’ll stay there…” Michael isn’t just a very talented and hard-working actor. He’s a young man with his head firmly attached to his shoulders. He’s someone you’d be proud to call a son, a brother or a friend. I’m happy to give Jersey Boys Blog readers a glimpse into the world of Michael Ingersoll.
JBB: Is this the longest you’ve been in one show, and how has this experience been different from your other acting jobs?
MI: This is by far the longest run I’ve ever done. My longest before this was perhaps a five-month engagement, and with JB I just surpassed my 400th performance. The very nature of a long run is, as Des (McAnuff) says, “An unnatural act.” We’re not really programmed as people to stay frozen in any one moment or situation, but we try to recreate the same story every night with roughly the same nuances and rhythms as our opening night performance. As people, we change and evolve. But while our characters may evolve slightly—there’s really no helping it—they are largely static because every night is a first time experience for the audience member regardless of the number of performances we’ve given to date. Also, this is the most significant contract I’ve ever landed, and I’m enjoying some of the advantages of a hit show with a sizeable budget. Seeing double page ads in the Chicago Tribune, seeing us cover the entire side of a city bus, having 1900 people on their feet every night, working with a Broadway-level cast and creative team are a new privilege. That’s not to detract from any of the other incredible actors and directors I’ve worked with who are doing vibrant and important work regionally. Those experiences were crucial to my development as an actor and I’m grateful for my particular career path.
JBB: You’re one of the few cast members who’s married. And since your wife is also an actress, you’ve obviously had to go in different directions for the past year. Tell us how you’ve handled that.
MI: While it was a difficult year apart, Angela and I handled things really well. When I got the call from my agent that I was being offered Nick Massi on the First National Tour, I had mixed feelings if you can believe that. Elated, of course, for the opportunity, but heavy-hearted at the thought of spending an entire year away from my wife. Now, you have to understand, my wife and I are best friends. We’ve built everything we have equally and together. We were interns, and subsequently company members in regional theatres together for four years. We’ve always taken our risks together. That being said, we both had too much to gain from taking advantage of the opportunity in Jersey Boys to turn it down. When I was on the road, we always kept the lines of communication open, visited as often as possible, sent gifts back and forth and constantly reminded ourselves that this was an investment in our marriage, not a diversion from it. Incidentally, the Chicago Tribune did a feature on three Chicago theatre couples that explored this very subject. My wife and I were interviewed as well as my colleague Drew Gehling and his girlfriend Sara who’s playing Christine in Phantom at the Cadillac Palace.
JBB: You do eight shows a week. How do you keep your character fresh, particularly when doing two shows on the same day?
MI: Well, first let me say that most of the time it’s a pleasure to do the show. I love my job, and I enjoy working with this company. For the days when it’s a challenge, I keep my imagination active. I listen to my colleagues on stage as carefully as I can so that my interaction with them is honest. I also make sure to tap into my sense of gratitude when I’m feeling low or disconnected. As actors, we have to do our best every night to deliver an opening night performance out of respect for these people who make our careers possible. Two-show days are just a marathon, so I redouble my efforts on those days to be well-rested and present.
JBB: How much does the audience affect your performance—e.g., a lively supportive audience versus a quiet, less involved audience, and so on?
MI: It’s always my intention to give the same committed performance every night, even if the audience happens to be particularly quiet. You can’t make giving your best conditional; I learned that from my father. But, I would by lying if I said that the energy coming from the house didn’t affect my performance at all. Jersey Boys in particular thrives on feedback from the audience, as its four main characters spend half of their time speaking directly to them. When the audience is lively and vocal, doing the show for the umpteenth time is, in a word, easier. You feel like you’re at a party and everyone is having a good time. When the audience is more reserved, it simply feels a little more like work. And we’re all making a good living doing what we love so there’s nothing wrong with that. I do my best, even though I don’t always succeed, to avoid placing expectations on an audience. To do so is to act as though they have arrived to serve you, instead of the other way around. I’ve spoken with Frankie Valli several times, and every single time we’ve met, at some point in the conversation he gets very serious and says, “You’ve got to remember it’s for them. It’s not for you; it’s for THEM. It’s their first time even though you’ve done it hundreds of times. You have to give everything you have, every night because they deserve it.” That’s good enough for me.
JBB: What do you usually do on your day off?
MI: Honestly, very little. Monday is the day I decompress. I wake up late, go to the gym when I’m behaving myself, take my wife out to a nice dinner or cook, and watch Monday Night Football. Sometimes I’ll go to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which is an amazing place in which to lose yourself. Anything that is quiet and uncomplicated.
JBB: Given that you have to spend so much time in rehearsals and on-stage with the other actors, is alone time or time away from the show important?
MI: It’s very important, and I think most of my cast would agree with me here. Though we all get along pretty well, we usually don’t hear from each other between Sunday night and Tuesday afternoon. The cast of a long running show acts very similarly to a large family – and we all know that as much as you love your family, there’s always potential for too much togetherness. Everyone needs time to themselves to breathe and reclaim their space so that they’re ready to give it their all the next night.
JBB: You’ve been with the SF-Chicago cast for six months now. Are there many differences between this group and the national tour cast?
MI: There are actually, and that’s neither good nor bad. Des has cast and directed each company in such a way that it assumes its own identity. Yes, we’re all following the same road map, but each cast does it a little differently. There are some shows that spawn national tours where the subsequent casts are directed to mimic the performances of their Broadway counterparts exactly, even down to the gesture. But as Des sees it, that won’t work for our show. Jersey Boys is unique in that it’s as much a realistic drama as it is a musical. Therefore, it’s more likely that an actor will give a convincing, grounded performance if he is allowed to use his own life experiences, personality, and instincts when creating a character. Because we’ve been allowed to use our unique selves in the creative process instead of mere imitation, our characters and companies are going to have slightly different flavors and nuances.
JBB: How has being in Jersey Boys changed your career—focus, direction, opportunities, national exposure, and so on?
MI: Jersey Boys has changed my career monumentally, to be honest. I made a living in theatre for years before I was cast as Nick Massi, but like most actors, it was a hand-to-mouth kind of existence. This role has allowed me to work at a much higher level both financially and artistically. My wife and I are now able to live in the way that we’ve been dreaming about for years. And let me say immediately that I’m not talking about extravagance. I’m talking about being able to do some things that many people may take for granted. I’m talking about the luxuries of health insurance, a predictable income, a retirement plan and a savings account. Most stage actors fight for their entire careers to achieve and retain these things because of the unpredictability of our business and the inexpensive skilled labor our market will bear. On a different note, being a lead in a huge Broadway success tends to give an actor a certain level of validation that makes it easier to get that next great gig. A break, to use the cliché. You work in different, well-connected circles now that, if you nurture exceptional working relationships with your colleagues, may help you in the future. Work breeds more work, we say. But it took me 10 years of persistence to get my first Broadway-level contract. It’s been a dream to be on Leno and the Emmy’s. It’s a dream job being in a huge hit that people care about. The four guys (the Seasons) here in Chicago have recently been in almost every major publication in the city and we’re currently making our way to every major television station for interviews. Things of this magnitude were not happening before Jersey Boys, even though I was working long, arduous hours. So I suppose I’m grateful for the perspective that now keeps me perpetually grateful.
JBB: What are the best memories and the worst memories you have of your time in San Francisco?
MI: I’ll never forget opening night, of course, when the real Frankie, Tommy, Bob, and Bob Crewe joined us on stage for the curtain call. The energy in the audience that night was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Also, our fans in SF are incredible. What an amazing group of generous, enthusiastic people. I really enjoyed meeting folks at the stage door, hearing about their connection to the Four Seasons, and how they’d enjoyed our show. The people I met in SF were by far what I enjoyed most. Maybe I just have more of an east coast mentality, but I never really settled into the city itself. I missed good public transportation, the change of seasons, and my neighborhood in Chicago. Also, where the Curran is located is a hot spot for crime, violence, drug use, and indigence. Those issues need to be addressed very badly in that area. Since that’s where I spent most of my time, it was difficult for me to feel good about the city when I was there.
JBB: How has the transition home been?
MI: The transition has been great. We’ve just extended into July of ’08, and I personally believe we’ll be here long after that thanks to our enthusiastic audiences. More importantly though, is the fact that the transition meant ending the year apart from my wife. I can’t tell you how happy I am not to know when our next goodbye will be. One of the major lessons I learned from this year on the road was to appreciate every day that we’re together, because as long as we’re in this business, the time will come again when we have to be apart. That’s just the way it is. But for now, I’m very happy to be home with her and have this amazing job. And I have our producers, (Dodger Theatricals) and Des (McAnuff) to thank for that. They by no means had to agree to let me change companies from the First National Tour to the Chicago Company, which cost them both time and money. I’m incredibly thankful that they took my happiness into consideration to that extent.
JBB: How does the stage door at the LaSalle compare with the stage door at the Curran–fans, accessibility, etc?
MI: You know, it’s very different. The Curran has a very accessible and inviting stage door that’s located close to the entrance to the theatre. We had a cool scene there that I enjoyed. The stage door here in Chicago, however, is kind of hidden down a dark alley so we don’t often see our fans waiting there. Sometimes I get a chance to chat with people in front of the theatre on my way home, which is nice. But there isn’t really a stage door scene here at all. For future reference though, to anyone who may be coming to our show in Chicago and is so inclined, I’m always happy to chat with fans in front of the theatre or answer e-mail through my website www.michaelingersoll.com .
JBB: Obviously you’re getting a lot of attention in Chicago press as being the hometown “Season.” How has that been for you?
MI: It’s been a lot of fun. I’m flattered that the press here has taken an interest in me, and I think it’s very indicative of the Chicago vibe to champion its own. But while I enjoy the press and media opportunities, my goal when giving interviews is always to invite the reader or viewer to support our show. My hope is that my enthusiasm for the business, my particular career path and my experience with Jersey Boys will make folks want to buy a ticket. It’s largely because of Jersey Boys that I’m receiving the attention, so it’s important to remember that and serve both the show and my incredibly talented cast mates when I get any kind of press opportunity.
JBB: Any thoughts on what you’ll do after you leave the show—besides take a long vacation!
MI: I want to originate a leading role that plays to my strengths in an upcoming Broadway show. I think most actors dream of that opportunity and I certainly hope it comes my way. Also, like most actors, I’d welcome opportunities in film and television.
JBB: Any words of wisdom for future casts of Jersey Boys?
MI: I don’t really think they need any advice from me. They’ll all be chosen because they will be the right people for the job, and I trust they all know how fortunate they are to be a part of this phenomenon. I wish them tons and tons of success.
Thank you to the multi-talented Michael Ingersoll and to West Coast Correspondent Cathi Aradi for this amazingly in-depth and fascinating interview!