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Duncan Heather on how to walk like a man – but sound a lot like a girl

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New Jersey Nights is about to embark on a UK tour. I talked to Duncan Heather, one of the show’s lead vocalists, to find out more about the latest “juke box” musical, which is the second to feature the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Is New Jersey Nights a brand new show?
Over here in the UK it is, yes, but, at the end of last year, I did the show over in America. There it was a 75 minute one-act show but, for the UK, the producers have split the show into two acts and added a lot more material, so that has changed the whole feel of the piece.

Essentially, over here, we have to be very aware that we are not Jersey Boys and, the good thing is, we’re not trying to be the same as them. We are honouring the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but none of us actually “plays” him. We tell the story of Frankie and Tommy and the lads together, through their songs and take the audience on a journey through their musical career.

In Act Two, we do a whole Motown section because very few people know that Frankie recorded a Motown album so it’s not just about “Walk like a man” and “Big girls don’t cry” – we go through the Motown stuff and then we get to the “Working my way back to you” kind of songs, that he did much later in his career.

That sounds great. Do you have a live band?
Yes. We will have a five- or six-piece band as they are still thinking about adding the extra brass and, between them, they really pump out the full orchestral sound. There are a couple of numbers that are just simply a grand piano or just a guitar and that makes a great contrast to the full-on sound.

The band is up on stage with us, not in the pit, so everyone gets a good view. It sort of embodies that era when the musicians were actually a big part of the show and we play to them, we stand in and around them for some numbers and all of us really try and feature them as much as we can.

Who are the other lead vocalists in the show?
The other guys are Ricky Rojas, who I’m sure you will have heard of as he has a list of theatre credits as long as your arm. He’s the Latino sexy one. I’m the non-Latino sexy one! He’s been in theatre for over ten years and he’s done Buddy, Fame, Grease and Joseph in the West End. He’s a fabulous musician, singer and actor so he’s just perfect for this.

Jon Hawkins is another of the leads. He’s the guy who founded Stage Status (the social media network for the theatre). He’s been in Rock Around the Clock, A Slice of Saturday Night, Mamma Mia and he’s done The Rocky Horror Show as well.

The fourth guy is Damion Scarcella. He’s an Australian who has done Mamma Mia over there but, for the last four years or so, he has played Frankie on the corporate scene, cruise ships and events around Europe with a show called Big Girl’s Don’t Cry so, I suppose, out of all of us he’s seen as the more “Frankie” one.

Having said that, I think the most important thing to get across is that there is no Frankie lead. That, for me, is the biggest difference between this show and Jersey Boys. The four of us do look like them, we have all the suits and we perform very similar choreography to the stuff they did, but we all step forward and have our time taking the limelight.

This sounds very similar to the last big tour you starred in, Bohemian Rhapsody.
It is indeed, it’s the same sort of premise. Essentially it’s a celebration of Frankie’s music going through the years. Even our dancers get a chance to do some songs to help to break it up a bit and to give us time to get changed. They do songs like “Be my baby” and “Da doo ron ron” and other songs from that era. It also gives us a bit of time to take a rest because, throughout the whole show, we never really go off stage.

We have choreographed drink breaks on stage using the bar, which is part of the set, or, when that part revolves round, the recording studio. It’s quite intense for us and really quite hard. We’re building up the stamina in our bodies as we go through the rehearsals and we’re trying to sing it all as full out as we can.

I was going to say that such a big tour must take you away from home for a long time, but I understand that you are really taking home with you aren’t you?
Well, yes. I am very fortunate in that my wife Sam is one of our six dancers. We were offered the show together and, to be honest, that was a real bonus because we really didn’t want to be apart for that long as we only got married last year.

The tour schedule is really massive. It covers all of the best theatres around the country and, we just heard today, that the Mayflower in Southampton which has well over 2000 seats is getting very close to being sold out. It’s looking like the crowds are going to be really good.

I’m sure that the success of the show, and of Jersey Boys, has to be based around the public’s love of that fantastic music.
Absolutely. Our set list is totally breathtaking. The songs are hard, there are lots of really complicated harmonies and we’re doing it all live. So it will be hard to do, but it makes you totally respect the music for what it is. When “Sherry” comes on the radio and you just sing along thinking that it’s kind of quirky that he has such a high voice, but when you bring it down and break it all apart – it is really hard to do.

Well, if that’s not hard enough for you, I understand that you’re also doing a charity project while you’re on tour.
Oh yes. I have decided to run 450 kilometres before we finish touring at the end of May, that’s the same as running from London to Paris. I will be doing it in memory of my Mum, who lost her fight with cancer in April 2012. My chosen charity is The Salisbury Hospice who looked after her so well during her final days with us.

As they are funded solely from donations, I’ll be asking everyone to give generously. The challenge may not sound huge to some people but, as I am going to be touring the show at the same time, it really is going to be a task – but something I really want to do. 

New Jersey Nights can be seen, as part of a four-month national tour, at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 23-24 February, the Theatre Royal Brighton 26-30 March, the Churchill Theatre, Bromley 2-6 April, the New Victoria Theatre, Woking 23-27 April and the Theatre Royal, Norwich 7-11 May.

More details about Duncan’s charity run can be found at www.justgiving.com/duncheather


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