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Oh, what a night! Edmonton actor takes on dream role in Jersey Boys

From theatre school at MacEwan to taking on the iconic Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, Farren Timoteo embraces all the opportunities that come his way.

When Farren Timoteo steps on The Citadel stage as the famed Frankie Valli, leading the cast of the wildly-popular musical, Jersey Boys, it's not just a two-hour-plus music marathon for the veteran Edmonton actor. It's a dream that's been a long time coming.

Those who've followed Timoteo on city stages over the last 20 years know his strong tenor voice can mimic Valli's iconic sound which, with The Four Seasons, dominated 60s rock 'n' roll on hits like Let's Hang On, Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like A Man. Valli's often unreachable signature falsetto and range has been known to topple even the most seasoned of musical theatre performers--but not young Farren. 

Timoteo says though he was filled with anxiety ever since The Citadel announced its current season and Jersey Boys as a marquee production, he knew he had to take a chance and audition for the role.

"I saw the show on Broadway in 2017, and then the film. It was one of those moments; a part I knew I needed to play," said the nearly-40-year-old Timoteo, on a break from rehearsing the mammoth production, some six months after he landed the part. "It isn't just about the range; it's Frankie's specific sound and style too. But I knew Valli wasn't vocally trained, so I thought I had a chance at it. And I've been singing these songs for years, already. I didn't want to lose the role."

In fact, Timoteo brings plenty of training to his current role, though none of it came during his Edmonton upbringing. A son of Italian immigrants (his grandparents settled in Jasper: And that story is lovingly told in Timoteo's one man show 'Made in Italy' which he's toured around the country), Timoteo says it was his dad that was a singer/songwriter doing 80s rock 'n' roll through the young Timoteo's formative years. That all changed when the 18-year-old joined Grant Mac's musical theatre program and found his place in the world.

The past 20 years have been filled with straight plays and musical credits here and beyond for Timoteo: The Fiancee, Shakespeare in Love, A Grand Time in the Rapids, Forever Plaid, The Light in the Piazza, to name a few, and award-winning turns in The Citadel's Spamalot and his autobiographical Made in Italy.

Another feather in his cap came with being named the artistic director of Alberta Musical Theatre Company (AMTC) in 2006 when Timoteo was just 23. Through the years, the playwright/director has guided many classic literature-inspired productions for the company including Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk. 

"I'm truly happy for the kids to be back out there," said Timoteo of AMTC's post-COVID return to presenting live, original musical theatre to school audiences around the province. And a few years back, Timoteo was recognized for his artistic contributions to the city by being named to the list of Edmonton's Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Magazine.

The way he gives back by teaching a class at MacEwan or volunteering with local theatre companies--it's kind of part of the whole process, Timoteo says; the same way he sees his onstage, professional work as having an educational aspect.

"That first day, walking into a rehearsal hall and all of us ready to be musical--I learn so much from my fellow performers," he said. "The Citadel has brought together enormous talent from across the country, and Jersey Boys is filled with big hearts and a script that is funny, sharp and emotional--at its core, this is a theatrical experience that gets under your skin and gets the 'big feels'."

Now that it's showtime, Timoteo says yes, he's getting advice on how to protect his voice from the overuse singing Frankie Valli nightly can entail. "Some tell me to rest my voice and drink lots of ginger tea; others say keep using the voice like a muscle to keep strengthening it. I'm not trying to overthink it--I'm really just aspiring to capture the spirit of the show and of Frankie Valli."

As for a favourite show moment, Timoteo says cheesy or not, there's something powerful when Frankie sings 'Can't Take My Eyes Off of You'.  "It's electrifying in nature, this show. It moves fast with big moments and quieter, emotional ones--it's masterfully structured."

"This can be such a challenging industry," he added, referring to missed opportunities and others that have come his way. "I intend not to take a moment for granted."

Jersey Boys runs through March 12 at The Citadel Theatre.