To land a lead role in a hit show sometimes you’ve gotta learn to walk like a man… for four years’ worth of auditions. That’s what Sam Wolf did to land the spot playing Tommy DeVito in the current run of the four-time Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys at New World Stages. Broadway Spin caught up with the never-say-die triple-threat to chat about playing one of the most iconic musicians of our time, and what he thinks about all those grumpy guys whose wives drag them to the show.
Broadway Spin: What was your path to land the role of Tommy DeVito?
Sam Wolf: Ever since I graduated college I had been auditioning for this show, for various different roles. I was in for a Bob Gaudio understudy at one point, a Bob Crew understudy at one point. Basically, I was going in for all of the wrong roles, for years. Then once it moved to off-Broadway, the role of Tommy Devito opened up. I was actually good friends with Nick Dromard, the original off-Broadway Tommy DeVito, and this is maybe my fourth year auditioning for the show, and sure enough, I go in for it, and I keep moving on, round by round by round, and before I know it I’m at final callbacks and next day I got a call at eight in the morning saying, “You got it.”
BS: I can’t believe anyone calls anyone at 8 a.m. in the morning in the theater industry.
SW: (Laughs) Yea, I think my agent knew how important this role was to me. I had always been attracted to this role. I think Tommy Devito is the most fun and if you talk to anybody who has ever done the show, they always say that at some point they want to be Tommy Devito — even if they’re not right for it — just because it’s so much fun.
BS: How did you celebrate booking the role?
SW: I first called my parents, and no answered. And then I called Nick Dromard, and I was like “Dude, guess what?” and this was still very early in the morning. I was surprised he was awake, and I said, “I got it” and he said, “Which one?” because there was still a chance I was going to be in the ensemble, but I was like, “I got Tommy Devito” and he was like “Holy s*** you got it!” Because he actually mentored me on the sides before the audition, coaching me through the material. It felt so good to be able to tell him I got it.
BS: Does that happen a lot? Actors kind of shepherding friends into roles?
SW: I think, I think it happens. I mean, when you’re replacing a role, a lot of the time the director wants to see how easily you can step in, usually in a slim amount of rehearsal time, so that’s helpful. I mean people won’t have sit-downs and dinners to go over material like Nick and I did, but they’ll get pointers of what they’re looking for like: “Do that, do this; avoid this.” Basically, just little things to help really solidify a solid first impression in the room.”
BS: What makes Tommy so fun?
SW: He’s a total jokester, and – well I’m not sure he would appreciate me saying this – but a passable con-artist. He enjoys what he does. His insecurities come out and they’re fun to play with, and because of that, his real self starts to show. For it to really click, you have to get the audience on your side right away. That’s always a fun challenge.
BS: Can you ever sense you don’t have the audience on your side?
SW: It depends – sometimes the spotlights just black everything out. But there are times when you can see, and you’ll see people in the first few rows just arms folded, almost like they’re wanting to have a bad time, and you’re like, “Hey, I’m slinging jokes up here.” But the thing is everyone enjoys the show in their own way and a lot of the times, the people folding their arms the guys who were dragged to the show by their wives from Jersey.
And honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard after the show, “I am not a Broadway person, I have never seen a musical, but by god this show was amazing.” Grown men weeping, laughing, you know, and singing along, cheering. I mean it’s moving to see at the end of the show. Older men, with their hands up in the air, not even clapping, just almost like praising. I mean they grew up with the Four Seasons. It’s really quite moving when the guy goes from arms folded across his chest to arms in the air. That’s a real victory.