The Broadway Performer Talks About His Role in the Hit Production, Growing Up in the Bay Area, and What Frankie Valli and Beyoncé Have in Common
Ben Bogen is a New York based actor who initially born and raised in Walnut Creek, California. He attended the University of Michigan where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. He went on to work in theater in the East Coast, and as of a year ago has been part of the “Jersey Boys” touring production, playing among other things the lead role of Frankie Valli.
“Jersey Boys” is the musical chronicle of The Four Seasons, which sees the group as they start up, become a worldwide hit, and all the highs and lows that come with such a trajectory in life.
Bogen recently took time to talk about his own chronicles in musical theater, and how much this particular production has meant to him.
Could you talk a bit about what it was like growing up in the Bay Area, and how you became interested in the arts?
I grew up in Walnut Creek, my whole life I was there from birth through the end of high school, so pretty close to San Jose. My mom is a children’s book author, my dad is a scientist but they both have a very strong appreciation and connection to the arts. My dad sings in an adult choir. My mom she was musical as a kid and has always loved everything in the theater.
So, I grew up with a lot of musical and theater influences. I remember being show “The Sound of Music” and live footage of “Cats”, on videocassette! I remember getting in front of the TV and trying to dance all the choreography to “Cats” and just being so mesmerized and so I think my parents always knew I’d do something creative with my life, and they gave me all that encouragement and nourished all that.
I started when I was in second grade, I started doing kids theaters through a man named Barrett Lindsay-Steiner, who runs a theater program in the Bay Area called “Standing Ovations”. He really changed my life because I remember I was a rambunctious kid.
I stepped into that theater program and I remember being so frustrated because I couldn’t learn the lyrics to this song, I was so frustrated. My mom was like, “Fine, we’ll take you out of the program.” And for some reason something inside me said, “No, you can do this.” So, I bunkered down, learned the song, did my little audition, [and] did my first play. They’re little spoofs of musicals, like “Princes and the Pizza”, and I remember stepping out on stage at the Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek, and it was the most exhilarating, most incredible moment of my life. I remember being like, “This is the greatest feeling in the world.”
I remember feeling liking the people so much and thinking these friends were different than the ones at school. From that moment on I was changed forever. I was hooked.
How did you get involved with the “Jersey Boys” production?
Last year I kept auditioning and I was supposed to do a production in Connecticut and I was in the final call backs for “Jersey Boys” and hadn’t heard anything so I literally packed up my sublet, moved everything out, had nothing left in New York, got to Connecticut, and [getting] off the train got the call from my agent saying I had gotten the “Jersey Boys” national tour.
I was like, “Well, what do I do now?” And so, I had to quit this production four days in, because it conflicted with rehearsals. So, I go back to New York, hang out for a few weeks and started rehearsals for a couple of weeks. Then we hit the road in September of last year. We’ve been touring ever since.
Could you tell me about what you do within the production?
Currently in “Jersey Boys” I am a male swing, but also specifically the Frankie Valli understudy, and I now have gone on for the role of Frankie Valli 28 times, which is amazing. Sometimes understudies get to go on once, maybe twice. There used to be another Frankie Valli in the tour who would go on twice a week because the role is so vocally demanding. Because our schedule has been a little bit different so there isn’t that role specified, so there’s me another guy in the ensemble that are the Valli understudies so anytime the main guy is out either one of us goes on.
I’m also assistant Dance Captain, so I help maintain the choreography of the show and taking notes from the audience, so that things stay clean and crisp, and look like what the creators had initially set on us. So that aspect of the job is interesting as well.
Could you give a quick rundown of what the story of “Jersey Boys” about?
It is the story of The Four Seasons, it is about Frankie Valli, before he was the Frankie Valli that we know of today. It was about where he came from, where the other guys came from in his group, how they all became friends and how they all started in a poor neighborhood in New Jersey in the 50’s and how they became a group and had ups and downs and slowly rose to fame as soon as they appeared on American Bandstand. They were ‘insert whatever pop culture phenomenon we have today’. They were even before The Beatles. I can’t think of a band today that was famous in the way they were, but it is interesting because today there are stories of pop culture groups, and one of the performers broke off to become a solo superstar sensation like Beyoncé broke off of Destiny’s Child and became BEYONCE.
In [Jersey Boys] you see Frankie Valli not be the center of attention, the first big chunk of the show. The show is split up in four different seasons. It starts out in spring and then the summer and fall and winter. Spring is narrated by Tommy DeVito, summer is narrated by Bob Gaudio, fall is narrated by Nick Massi. and winter is narrated by Frankie Valli. And so, when the show is finally handed over to Frankie to narrate, you see him break off and become a solo performer. It’s pretty interesting to see that progression.
Do you have a moment that’s personally your favorite, whether to perform, watch from the side of the stage, or as an audience member?
I love the moment when we come out of the red jackets and we’re singing “Sherry”, and it’s kind of the moment the audience is waiting for, and there’s so much build up to it. There’s like a 1960’s camera that has a close up of all of our faces and it’s in black and white and its projected onto the screen but it’s twice as big and everyone in the audience sees us performing it live in that moment but it’s in black and white like if it was an old television.
It’s so cool, because people see it and they think it’s the footage of The Four Seasons but then they realize it’s actually us being filmed live on stage. Even if I never get to study a part like that ever again, I’ll have had this experience early on and I don’t know, I always take that in because very few shows give you the opportunity to sing like that. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.
“Jersey Boys” will be at Broadway San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts from June 5-10, 2018. Tickets and info at broadwaysanjose.com. A sneak peek is available at jerseyboystour.com.