Out production designer Richard Hester has worked on “Jersey Boys” since its inception eight years ago. Still, he didn’t know what to expect on the show’s opening night in Amsterdam. How would audiences in the Venice of the North respond to the distinctly American musical about the lives and careers of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons?
The answer: with the same enthusiasm that’s made “Jersey Boys” not just a jukebox musical hit, but also a theatrical phenomenon.
Hester is sending a decidedly non-Dutch cast to Milwaukee later this month for an 11-day, 16-performance run Oct. 16–27 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. It’s not the first time the show has visited Milwaukee, but each performance is special to the 52-year-old Broadway veteran.
“I don’t know that any of us can say for sure why ‘Jersey Boys’ works as well as it does, but it does work,” Hester says.
He was the original stage manager for the Broadway production and has since become involved in many other functions, including casting decisions. Growing up in South Africa and New Jersey, Hester first became interested in theater in high school and wanted to pursue it in college.
“My father said he would pay for my college education no matter what I wanted to do as long as I didn’t go into theater,” Hester says. “I was an English major at Columbia University and took as many theater classes as I could.”
Hester began working on Broadway in the evenings, building his knowledge and making connections. Working at The American Place Theatre, his initial interest was in acting, but he quickly found himself more interested in stage management.
As production supervisor, he oversees all touring and “sit-down companies.” The latter is a term referring to companies that perform for extended periods of time in larger cities, such as Chicago. In addition to Amsterdam, he has supervised “Jersey Boys” tours in Toronto, London, Australia, South Africa and Singapore.
“Jersey Boys” succeeds wherever it plays for a number of reasons, Hester says.
“Statistics have shown us that this is a show where most of the ticket sales are generated by men,” he explains. “It’s about four guys trying to figure out how to take care of their families, become successful and survive in the world. It’s a show guys can relate to.”
Like Hester, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ producer and major songwriter Bob Crewe was also gay. Hester doesn’t believe the group treated Crewe differently because of his sexual orientation.
“Bob in his day could be very flamboyant, but there was never any doubt that his talent was supreme,” Hester said. “He was considered the Fifth Season, and it’s great to me that in this musical about four successful guys, the smartest person in the room is the gay guy.”
Crewe wrote what is perhaps the world’s greatest gay love song – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Watching his lover lying in bed one morning inspired the music.
“How many weddings has that song been played at where the bride and groom don’t even know?” Hester asks.
“Bob claimed that nobody at the time knew he was gay,” Hester adds. “But if you ask any of the other Seasons, they’d say, ‘Oh, please.’”