Broadway Spotlight: Interview with Mark Ballas

Dance Phenom Debuts On Broadway As Frankie Valli
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Emmy-nominated choreographer, dancer, musician, and actor Mark Ballas is probably best known for his nine years and 18 seasons on Dancing With The Stars, but many do not know he has a music background (duo Alexander Jean with fiancee BC Jean) and that he was trained as a musical theater performer in London. Mark was born in Texas but spent his formative years growing up in London, performing and studying the arts
and later winning awards with dance partner Julianne Hough years before either would earn primetime fame.

The two-time winner on Dancing With The Stars (with Olympians Kristi Yamaguchi and Shawn Johnson) is stepping into the iconic role of Frankie Valli in the final run of Jersey Boys, starting October 18 and officially closing January 15, 2017 with Ballas acting as the final bookend portraying the legendary The Four Seasons front man. With Ballas’ Broadway debut he has big shoes to fill; however given his expansive background in various shows, television, and music, he is poised for a new career-changing challenge. Mark spoke with New York City Monthly about what “Dancing” has taught him about show business, how he looks forward to spending more time in New York, and the true honor it is to debut on Broadway and leave his mark on this record-breaking Tony and Grammy-winning musical…

How did this opportunity come up and what was the process like from the first discussion to making the big announcement – to play the final Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys?

I’ve been a fan of Jersey Boys since it came out. I saw it on the West End, Broadway and in Las Vegas. In the off-season we heard they needed a new Frankie. They didn’t call me for this, I did the audition, I did the acting, sing- ing and dancing call and I ended up booking the gig on my own merit. In all reality, to be in a show like this it doesn’t matter if you’ve been on television, you’ve gotta be able to sing the songs and hit the notes. I auditioned like everyone else and I’m super proud to be the final Frankie in the last run.

You have already seen Jersey Boys, but did you ever think of yourself in the show when you saw it previously and is Broadway something you’ve had your eye on for a while?

Absolutely. It’s been a dream of mine since I first saw it. A lot of friends of mine and teachers and people who know me vocally and the kind of music I’m into thought this was perfect for me. I’m a high tenor, I’m the same height. One of my friends from the UK sent me an interview I did, an article when I was 22 and I said one of my answers was playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys.

You created a stir for 18 seasons on Dancing With The Stars with an impressive roster of partners. Getting to work with so many different personalities, is there anything that you might have taken with you over the years that will help your Jersey Boys portrayal?

Absolutely, I think the thing with Dancing With The Stars is I’ve remained the same person from start to finish but every season I learn something new from my partner and I learn how to push them or lay off here. One person may take to instructing in a different way than someone else. Learning how to adapt and to read and figure out the puzzle of how am I going to get someone from the start to the finish line and turn them into or make them look like a dancer for that week is quite a challenge. There’s no experience like that. I think that will be great going into Jersey Boys because I’m going into a whole new cast and show and giving them my energy. I’m really looking forward to working with and learning from a whole new set of professionals.

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” is one of the top songs you sing in Jersey Boys. Assuming you’ve been to New York over the years, what are some of the places, landmarks, restaurants, shows you’ve visited that you haven’t been able to take your “eyes off of”?

I love coming to New York. I’m looking forward to spending some more time there and finding my spots. I wouldn’t say I have too many but I’ve been to Tao and Lavo and Buddakan but I’m looking to find more of the hole-in-the-wall places. I’m an old-fashioned whisky drinker. I’ve seen Jesus [Christ Superstar], Chicago, Wicked, Les Mis, The Wild Party. I’d really like to check out Hamilton, I’ve seen Something Rotten!, I’ve got a friend in Kinky Boots.

Jersey Boys is now the 12th-longest running musical of all time on Broadway. With all of your entertainment background, professional dance talents and charisma, what do you hope your legacy will be during the final performances to make the crowd literally sing “Oh, What A Night” on their way out?

I think it’s just going to be my interpretation. The thing I love already from Jersey Boys is they don’t want you to recreate something that’s already been done by John Lloyd Young or Dominic Scaglione Jr., they want you to be your own version. I’m looking to find that youthfulness and that younger Frankie and then when he loses his daughter and then he runs into debt, seeing that dark shift pertaining to the character but also bringing the light to the show, the happiness. I will be bringing my own twist on the live performance, with a different kind of swag. Anyone who has followed me this long on the show knows I am theatrical, I go big, and I pay attention to every detail. I hope to bring the crowd to their feet every single night and I know I will give it 200%.