While the Tony Award-winning musical is called Jersey Boys, let’s not forget that so many of the Billboard chart-toppers performed in the show are about the real-life Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ fraught relationships with women.
Jersey Boys is not a simple jukebox musical connecting songs together with some great dance moves, nifty suits, and skinny ties. Rather, Jersey Boys is a musical documentary with sharp points to make about four young men who grew up in the 1950s in rough working-class North Jersey towns.
So with the musical Jersey Boys coming to DC’s The National Theatre with its deserved spotlight on the many Four Seasons titles such as “Sherry,” “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night), “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Working My Way Back To You,” and “My Eyes Adored You,” let’s remember that the women in their lives, both real and onstage, were far from simply backup singers or objects.
With that thought in mind, we at DCMTA had a conversation with Ashley Bruce who portrays Mary Delgado, the first wife of Frankie Valli. She also plays another dozen or so characters in the production. Ashley Bruce took time to chat while on the Jersey Boys tour stop at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, N.J.
Ashley Bruce is no newcomer to the musical theatre scene. She grew up in the Glasgow, Scotland area. She fell in love with music and performing at an early age. As she mentioned, she was “fortunate to have the support of her family” in her desire to be a performer.
As a teen, Bruce attended The Musical Theatre Course at The Dance School of Scotland. It is a center of excellence for dance and musical theater in Scotland. At 19 she trained at the prestigious Guildford School of Acting in London earning a BA with Honors in Musical Theatre. Then it was off to perform.
Bruce began her professional performing arts career in the United Kingdom, in roles such as Belle in Beauty and the Beast at The Palace Theatre and Anita in West Side Story at The Royal Festival Hall in London. She also performed at venues such as The Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End.
It was not that many years ago that Bruce was playing Stephanie Mangano in Saturday Night Fever for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
“It was such a big jump, away from my family and friends when I moved from Scotland,” said Bruce. “But I had their support which made my move possible.”
At 26, Bruce arrived in New York City to begin the hunt for work. “I did small gigs in NYC; getting up early at 5 a.m. for audition calls.” With a smile I could feel through our cell phone conversation, she added, “I worked on my Scottish accent to neutralize it.”
Bruce kept up with her “many equity call auditions” including the one that led to her role as Mary Delgado in Jersey Boys. The audition was for an ensemble member. As Bruce explained, equity calls can be for featured performers or for ensemble members. Since in Jersey Boys “the actor portraying Mary Delgado was also to perform additional roles it was an ensemble call.”
Bruce went on to chat about her first audition “leading to a number of callbacks.” Having just seen and written about Signature’s A Chorus Line, on my end of our call I couldn’t help but have the opening number in A Chorus Line fixed in my mind. “God, I hope I get it/I hope I get it/How many people does he need…Look at all the people!/At all the people/How many people does he need?”
And Bruce got it. She “is thrilled to have been cast as Mary Delgado.” Asked why the role of Mary Delgado interested her, Bruce indicated that “the character is a strong woman. She had to be.” She has portrayed Mary Delgado since the current Jersey Boys tour opened in Cincinnati, Ohio in October 2018. The tour has dates set through May 2020.
Bruce has enjoyed touring across America “through many venues; some just one night and others like Washington for a longer run.” One challenge; she misses time with her husband.
Asked about playing Mary Delgado, “I try to get inside my character. I respect her and her life. She was a real person, not fiction. I always remember that I might be performing before someone who knew her. I want to be respectful.” She also mentioned that as she portrays Delgado, she remembers her own mom “who is such a strong woman.”
One particular Jersey Boys moment stands out for Bruce beyond “the “great music and sharp, clear, cool dancing.” It is the poignant scene she shares with Frankie Valli (Jon Hacker) as he sings “My Eyes Adore You (1975).” The scene is about their very bumpy life together; “a relationship that did not work out.”
The lyrics include: “…Headed for city lights, climbed the ladder up to fortune and fame/I worked my fingers to the bone made myself a name/Funny I seemed to find that no matter how the years unwind/Still I reminisce ’bout the girl I miss and the love I left behind/My eyes adored you like a million miles away from me.”
As we wrapped up our conversation I asked for a “fun fact” from Bruce and her work in Jersey Boys. Here it is: there is a bridge between two scenes in which she has all of “8 seconds to change from one character to another.” Unseen in the wings to the audience, there is a wig dresser to remove her wig and replace it with another. There are two dressers helping to redress her costumes. And one assisting with taking off shoes and replacing with a different pair.
I was speechless in awe as I counted 8 seconds to myself. When I asked her about being out of breath, she added, “I have two seconds to have a sip of water. Then out again to the stage with everything fine.” Wow. And that is all for us the audience.
Bruce concluded our lively conversation with this, “being in Jersey Boys is a dream for me. I am so fortunate.”
Jersey Boys performs from December 17, 2019, through January 5, 2020, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call 1-800-514-3849, purchase in person at the National Theatre Box Office, or go online.
Note: Jersey Boys runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. The production is recommended for ages 12 and up, and contains authentic, profane Jersey language.