Cory Jeacoma started singing in kindergarten and never wanted to stop. He recently finished the Jersey Boys tour and now he returns to New York City to play Bob Gaudio in the new off-Broadway production. We spoke to him about his musical theater roots, his best memories and mishaps with Jersey Boys, and living the New York dream.
When did you fall in love with theater, and how did you know that you wanted to be a performer?
In kindergarten, my teacher did a spring variety show and we would sing musical theater songs, like Grease and Sound of Music, so I caught the bug of music then. I loved the attention as a little kid and when I got older, my mom noticed that I was singing along with the radio and could tell that music was important to me. In fifth grade she told me to do the talent show and I sang “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” (as any fifth grader would.) I caught the bug from there. I played Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book– it was my first theater experience and I couldn’t stop. Then I was doing high school shows and then the community theater shows (about six a year) and a little cabaret, and I couldn’t stop.
In high school, all of my friends were applying to schools for musical theater, and I realized you could go to school and make a career out of it. I started really digging in and getting my hands dirty and doing readings and workshops, and meeting some incredible, incredible artists that I grew to respect and admire. It’s cool that I am finally getting the chance to build a platform for myself to do what I love and share it with people. It’s incredible.
I remember seeing it and just being in awe. It was one of the first shows that connected with me in a way that I realized musical theater has something for everyone. There are shows for every person, but this is the guys’ musical; Jersey Boys was about four dudes and that was sort of what I was. I’m just an average dude and it’s a show about four average dudes who hustled and made a name for themselves, and it stood out to me. Especially the role of Bob Gaudio, this earnest, forward-thinking young guy who had a song in his heart and a passion in his body that he needed to release, and he did incredible things with it. That’s something that I admire. He never lost sight of himself throughout the process. So I thought, I want to be a part of this. I saw the show six or seven times before I even got an audition, and whenever someone came into the city and wanted to see a show, I took them to Jersey Boys.
What is it like to play such an iconic man? How much research goes into the role when you’re portraying a real person and how much of yourself do you try to bring to the character?
It was very daunting until a couple of months ago when I finally met Bob. My biggest goal was to meet Bob Gaudio, and it was also my biggest fear to meet Bob Gaudio. Not because he is some scary guy, but because I admire him so much and I want nothing more than to do justice to his life and to this story he lived. Four months ago during tech for New World Stages, they told me Bob was going to be working with us through the last week of tech and I literally pooped my pants. I was trying to play it cool, “He is going to be here watching me play him, yeah, that’s normal.” It was wild. He was the nicest guy in the world, and he gave me a stamp of approval. He said, “You can’t ask me, because I was living it, but I bet you if you ask Frankie he would say that you remind him a lot of me when I was your age,” and I just about fell on the floor . He said that I should be proud, and I was proud. That was a huge milestone in my life, just a huge moment when this man that I admire so much and that I spent upwards of 300 performances portraying said, “yes, you are doing all right, kid.”
Do you think it’s easier or more difficult than playing a fictional character?
They both come with their challenges. With a fictional character, you have to create this person. You have to literally create a believable, living, breathing person who has a personality and traits that people can relate to, and you have to sort of tie yourself into their emotional life and portray their story honestly. That’s really tough. But on the flip side, when you play a non-fictional character, someone who is living and breathing or someone who once lived, you have to honor them regardless of anything. You have to bring them to the role. Even in a show like Jersey Boys, where they’re not looking for impersonations, there is a level of Bob that I have to bring to the role because that’s who I am portraying. There is that specificity to it that you have to really, really pay attention to and honor, and that comes with its own challenges. But honestly, I want to do either, because it’s so much fun playing fictional characters and creating them, but it’s also so much fun getting to play people, especially when you get to meet them because that is wild.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
For Jersey Boys specifically, because I don’t enter for the first 25 minutes. Our stage manager comes on the loudspeaker and says “Places, everybody, this is your places call, places for Act One,” and everybody says have a good show, and then they say to me, “Have a good shower, Cory,” because I jump in the shower when everybody else gets their places call. While everyone is onstage we have a live feed of the show playing through the speakers backstage so we know where we are throughout the show, and I sing along with the whole show. That’s my warm-up. I sing along with the first 25 minutes of the show and then I make my entrance.
What are some memorable moments from your time on tour with Jersey Boys?
Meeting Frankie Valli. Mark Ballas was playing Frankie Valli in LA. He closed it on Broadway and then came out to do a six-week stint in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre. Also meeting Mark Ballas, who’s now a dear friend of mine, and getting to know him, and getting to meet all these incredible people who were on the road, who are some of my best friends now, that’s definitely great. On opening night at the Ahmanson Theater, we were told that Frankie Valli was going to be there, and once again I pooped in my pants. When I finished my heartfelt monologue at the end of the show about my friendship with Frankie and his partnership and how the group changed my life, I walked offstage and who was standing there getting ready to shake my hand? Frankie Valli. So I shook his hand and thanked him and he said that I did a wonderful job, I had to gather myself and do the finale. I had to do “Who Loves You” as if I didn’t meet Frankie Valli two seconds ago.
Any funny onstage mishaps?
Oh, my gosh. Every night. If anyone has seen the show, they will know the spiral staircase. I would say maybe once a week I fall up or down those stairs. If you’re lucky you will catch it. There have been a few times during the smoke scene during “Oh, What A Night,” when I run up the stairs for a funny bit of the show, that I completely missed the steps and just fell and then had to crawl up the stairs.
My favorite was one time when we were in Omaha, Nebraska or something. During the finale we do this spin and then we grab the microphones and do a lunge towards the audience, and we kind of point at someone in the audience and sing to them. During the spin I got a little crazy and my hand smacked my microphone, and it went flying into the audience and my mic fell over. While everyone is doing the dance, I’m on my hands and knees picking up my microphone. It was wild.
Favorite current running show on Broadway (aside from Jersey Boys)?
I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard incredible things about The Band’s Visit and I am dying to see it. I am a sucker for Waitress. It’s such a cute show and Sara Bareilles really, really just knocked it out of the park. Not that I had any doubts that she wouldn’t, but it is so impressive how incredible of a pop artist she is and how incredibly her music translates to theater because her lyrics are so brilliant. Not only is the show entertaining, but she also brought something to the show that I really was impressed by. But I haven’t seen any of the new stuff and I am dying to. I saw Bandstand before it closed and it was a favorite of mine, and I think it closed way, way too soon. It was absolutely breathtaking and Corey Cott was robbed of a Tony nomination.
What is your favorite song to perform in the show?
I love “Cry For Me”. It’s my favorite, and not just because I sing it. It’s one of my favorite parts of the show because it’s the first time you hear the Four Seasons sound. Each guy comes up and joins in one by one, and then by the end you finally hear that Four Seasons sound that made them famous, and it’s a really special moment in the show. Also the fact that Bob Gaudio wrote a song that brilliant at 15 years old is incredible. When they were writing the show they needed a song for Bob’s audition. They said, “we just need something simple,” and Bob said, “try this song that I wrote a while ago.” They tried it and that was it. It was just a throwaway song, and it ended up being this iconic moment of the show.
Do you have any advice for aspiring performers?
Just keep going. You are going to get knocked down and you are going to get back up, and you are going to get knocked down again. You’d better get back up again, because if you love this industry you can’t do anything else. I truly love theater, and love being a part of this artistry that means something and that helps people get through their day and helps people through struggles. That’s what theater is. It’s a mirror of reality and it helps people through and it gives people hope. It does something to people that not many industries do and I am happy to be a part of it. So if you feel that same way, then do it.
Also, help people. Be kind. Be a good person. That’s the most important thing in this industry, because no one wants to work with a diva. No one wants to work with someone who is dramatic. Be a kind person and help each other, because this industry is hard, but if you have people who can boost you up and you can help boost them up, why wouldn’t you want to help each other? It’s really special when people come together for a greater good, and I think that’s something that theater lives and breathes every day.
It’s a dream. To be able to say that I am in the original off-Broadway cast is really cool. And when I walk away from it, maybe in a million years, when I am older and I have kids and I can say, “I opened Jersey Boys in New World Stages in New York City,” that’s such a cool feeling, especially with a show that I care so much about. And to bring a show that is so loved back to people who missed it, even thought it was gone for less than a year, it’s wild.
What is your favorite thing about NYC?
New York City is just the best. My entire life, I wanted to live in New York City. And from my hometown in Florida, where it’s 80 degrees 90 percent of the year and the beach is 15 minutes away, moving to New York just sounded crazy to everyone. But there is something about it that was just pulling me my entire life, and as soon as I moved it was just right. There was no question that this is where I belong.
I’ve toured the country and seen some incredible cities. I spent a month and a half in LA. I spent two weeks in Boston, which is basically just the clean version of New York City. Through it all, New York kept calling my name, and I kept on coming back. I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. New York is for me. I was born in New York, so it’s in my blood I think.