November 17, 2011 | by Patrick Folliard
Crewe club

Jonathan Hadley as Bob Crewe in ‘Jersey Boys.’ He says the long-running show has been a blessing. (Photo by Joan Marcus; courtesy Center Stage Marketing)

‘Jersey Boys’
Through Jan. 7
National Theatre
1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
$36.50-$151.50
800-447-7400
nationaltheatre.org

After four years playing in the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys,” gay actor Jonathan Hadley shows no sign of slowing down.

“My entrance line is, ‘Watch your mouth Toto, you’re not in Newark anymore.’ How great is that?”

Based on audience reaction, it’s pretty great and so is Hadley’s performance as Bob Crewe the flamboyant manager of the legendary Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Hadley’s is a showy supporting part in a terrific production that follows the professional and personal fortunes of the group’s members over four decades (approximately1963-2003). A little limp-wristed and plenty camp, the Crewe character is an integral part of the dream machine that catapults four streetwise Italians boys from New Jersey to the stratosphere with songs like “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Stay.”

“Today we’d identify Bob Crewe as a gay man,” Hadley says. “He dated women but he had boyfriends. What’s extraordinary to me is that these tough straight guys totally click with this sort of Paul Lynde type. They accept him for who he is — a talented and brilliant producer, manager and lyricist.”

Without Crewe, there would not be the mega-success and long careers. In addition to managing the group, Crewe wrote great lyrics, Hadley says. For instance, late one night while admiring his sleeping boyfriend, he jotted down a little something titled “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The song was a huge hit, arguably one of the biggest pop songs ever and unbeknownst to most, it’s basically a gay love song.

Hadley first played Crewe on Broadway, then in Vegas, and for three-and-a-half years he’s been on the road with the national tour.

“It an adjustment. At times [the cast] feels like carnies. But for me it’s been really interesting not only exploring the country but observing how the show plays in different regions. In the Northeast where there are a lot of Italian Americans, audiences totally get the humor. In the South, they sometimes get upset with the language — we’ve had to modify the script in some places. In the Midwest, they respond to the music. They were wild in Omaha. Wherever we are audiences always leap to their feet to applaud at the end.”

He says the music is a guaranteed pick me up.

“Touring can get tiring, but once you’re onstage and the music starts, you get on that train and ride for two-and-a-half hours. Also, it’s easier to remain engaged with ‘Jersey Boys’ because the book is so good. Every night we tell a story about people living their dreams, seeing them fall apart and putting them back together again.”

Hadley has no plans to give up the role anytime soon. On tour breaks back home in New York City, Hadley sometimes stops by Splash for a drink. Out-of-work actors with an eye on playing Crewe will ask if he’s ready to leave the show. He simply says “Not yet” and buys them a drink.

Growing up in Charlotte, N.C., as part of a theatrical family — more academic (instructors and heads of drama departments) than show biz — Hadley began acting in plays as a child. He did a lot of community theater before studying classically at North Carolina School of the Arts. After graduating, Hadley headed to Broadway and began working right away.

His first job was “Into the Woods,” the famous Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I can get used to this, and I’ve been doing the New York thing ever since,” he says.

Although Hadley has never met Crewe in person (they’ve exchanged e-mails), he has studied his voice, photos and quotes.

“Crewe started out as a model in L.A., and despite wanting to become a star, he ended up behind the scenes,” Hadley says. “I’ve heard that he’s very pleased with ‘Jersey Boys’ because he’s finally a star. And I like that I play a part in that.”

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