Working his way: 'Jersey Boys' star took long route to the lead role
Actor Hayden Milanes had to work his way up to play Frankie Valli in the national tour of "Jersey Boys," which returns to Chicago for a 16-performance run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre starting Tuesday, May 12.
"When you're 5-foot-9 and you somewhat look Italian and you can sing high, Frankie Valli is definitely in your wheelhouse," said Milanes, who felt that he was a prime candidate to appear in "Jersey Boys," the international hit jukebox musical portraying the amazing rise of the band Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons that has been playing on Broadway since 2005. "I had the look, I had the height, I had the notes."
Nonetheless, after his initial audition, Milanes had a further nine callbacks before he was cast in 2011 to be in the national tour of "Jersey Boys." And even then, Milanes had to climb the ladder internally since he was first hired as a swing -- a cast member who understudies multiple roles.
"If anyone has a chance to become a swing, I think that it's a great acting exercise," said Milanes, who covered four different ensemble roles including the plum part of Valli. "You are just forced to listen because it works a different side of the brain that compartmentalizes. You have to think what track am I on today and the differences between the choreography, which are so specific and minute that it can throw you off completely."
As a replacement joining a tour already up and running, Milanes had to learn quickly.
"You get a very concentrated, limited amount of time to learn your roles and then, boom, you're a part of the company," Milanes said.
Only when he was promoted to playing Valli full-time in 2012 did Milanes ultimately get "a healthy amount of rehearsal with the director, and they worked with me to find the authenticity of my own Frankie."
Since Milanes as Valli has to sing just under 30 songs at each performance on top of appearing in comic and dramatic scenes in Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's script, he understandably has to be constantly concerned that he is keeping healthy and staying vocally fit by warming up and warming down after each show.
"It's a forever-evolving process," said Milanes, adding that he sees a vocal coach regularly to help him through all the rigors of travel and drastic shifts in climate. "It's the major leagues, it's just like a baseball player stretching just before a game."
And like any pro athlete, Milanes is very aware that his "Jersey Boys" team faces an amazing amount of competition for entertainment dollars from other shows that trade on the ongoing popularity of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.
For example, the group Under the Streetlamp (created by Michael Ingersoll, who starred in the initial Chicago company of "Jersey Boys") is playing Mother's Day weekend shows at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan and at Elgin Community College. And then there's the troupe known as The Midtown Men featuring original Broadway "Jersey Boys" stars. (They played a 2014 Valentine's Day gig at Aurora's Paramount Theatre).
The Las Vegas show "Oh What a Night! A Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons" plays the Batavia Fine Arts Centre on June 20, while Frankie Valli himself is still performing around the world (though there are no Chicago-area dates on the horizon).
"Jersey Boys" is also competing with itself since there was a Clint Eastwood-directed film version released last year, while Chicago-area audiences had ample opportunities to see the show when it previously played the Windy City from October 2007 to January 2010 and during a two-month 2012 return engagement.
"Actually, we've come to learn that it's best to embrace the fact that this music is just that good and that not only can we sell out a show, but someone who is doing it just as a revue standing and singing songs without our great script can also sell out," Milanes said. "It's just a great testament to how strong of a connection that is out there to this music."
"Jersey Boys"Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Through May 24: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 20), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 17; 1 p.m. Sunday, May 24