John Michael Dias and Michael Ingersoll followed two very different paths to Chicago’s Bank of America Theater, where they can currently be seen portraying two members of ’60s pop sensation Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons in the hit show Jersey Boys.
Last week, the actors told their stories to two groups of students and community members as part of Highland Park High School’s FOCUS on the Arts 2009. FOCUS, a biennial arts outreach program, began in 1964 as an avenue to provide both students and members of the community greater exposure to visual and performing arts. During the three-day event, more than 200 artists offered workshops and performances including ballroom dancing classes, creative writing tutorials and talks about life in the entertainment business, all of which were free and open to the public.
The two stars of Jersey Boys took the opportunity to share with the community their rise to fame, and the life of a working actor in a hit show. Dias opened both sessions with a stirring rendition of “Out There” from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, a song he said he once sang for his senior recital.
“I was lucky to know at a young age what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he told the standing-only crowd of more than 200 after the performance.
Dias began performing at the age of 12 after his grandmother volunteered him for a role in the chorus of The Music Man at the Massachusetts’ Little Theatre of Fall River where she worked as a costume mistress. When he applied to Boston Conservatory, Dias said he didn’t actually think he would be accepted, but “sometimes things just come together and surprise you.”
Ingersoll, on the other hand, got involved with theater at a later age than most. He played soccer in high school, but after realizing that there were “three chicks for every guy” in the choir and drama departments, he decided to split his time between activities. He met his wife, fellow Chicago actress Angela Ingersoll, during a yearlong theater internship after graduating with a degree in theater from Miami University of Ohio.
And then came Jersey Boys. The road to success in a Tony award-winning Broadway musical was not an easy one. Though they now work in a successful show and have spent time with stars such as Tony Bennett and Stephen Colbert, both Dias and Ingersoll hit some bumps on the road to stardom.
Dias auditioned for the lead role of Frankie Valli a staggering 13 times over a two-year period before finally landing the part in 2007. During the time he spent auditioning for Jersey Boys, Dias worked as a bartender earning an average of $200 a week when his rent in New York City was $1200. Open calls for non-equity actors begin as early as 7 a.m., which prevented him from getting a day job. He supplemented his income by working as a toy demonstrator at FAO Schwarz.
While pursing steady work as an actor, Ingersoll, conversely, paid his bills by doing voiceovers, commercials and once even dressing up as a giant bunch of grapes for $300. His audition for Jersey Boys came as a result of a review in the Chicago Sun-Times for his work in the Chicago production of Jonathan Larson’s Tick Tick…Boom.
Two thousand actors auditioned for the original national touring company of Jersey Boys, a play that follows the story of how four blue collar kids from New Jersey became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of the most influential names in music, ultimately selling 175 millions records and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
After the Sun-Times review, Ingersoll spent two weeks preparing for the role of Frankie before it was decided he should audition for the role of Nick instead — leaving him just two hours to learn the new material. After earning the part, he originated the role of Nick Massi in both the national tour and Chicago companies of Jersey Boys. He has since played over 1,000 performances.
“It may be your 1,000th performance but it’s the first for the audience, who have each paid $100 to see the show. You owe it to them to give as strong a performance as you can,” Ingersoll said after being asked how he musters the energy to do such a demanding show eight times a week.
Dias and Ingersoll shared with the audience that it isn’t always the “best person” who wins a role but rather the “right one.” Actors miss out on jobs all the time because they don’t fit the costume sizes or offer a different interpretation from what the casting directors have in mind for a role.
The admission prompted one man in the audience to ask whether it was better to be good or lucky.
Ingersoll said it was a little of both and that simply being prepared was the most important thing. “Luck will only carry you for so long. Unless you’re Keanu Reeves; then it’ll carry you forever,” he added.
Playing a character based on a real person made Ingersoll “proud to carry on that legacy,” but he said he avoided an approach that was too historical, choosing to focus on telling the story instead.
“There’s more pressure to do them justice while still bringing a little of yourself to the role,” Dias agreed. Meeting the real Valli (who was in Chicago for a concert last month) gave him the opportunity to incorporate some of the performer’s mannerisms, including his quiet and modest demeanor, into his portrayal.
Dias attributed the show’s continuing success to the fact that it appeals to people of all ages, whether or not they grew up listening to the music.
“It’s a real story that we can [all] relate to. Seeing it live is incredible.”
Updated 9:08 a.m: The story has been edited for grammatical purposes. Thanks to commenter LisaK for the correction.