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Birmingham Seaholm grad gets gangsta in "Jersey Boys"
Tom Fiscella first saw "Jersey Boys" as an audience member, catching the Tony Award-winning musical's first touring company in Los Angeles.
Already a seasoned actor himself, the Southfield native and Birmingham Seaholm graduate didn't just love the show about Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. He saw a place for himself in it.
"As I sat there in the seats I thought, 'I really need to be a part of this,' and I saw the role i could it into and made it my mission to get involved with it," recalls Fiscella, 47, who's part of "Jersey Boys' " second touring company, playing Gyp DeCarlo, the benevolent mobster who provided financial and other assistance to the Four Seasons in their climb to stardom.
"That's the role I knew I could fit into," Fiscella says by phone from the company's recent stop in State College, Pa. "I could kind of sense the Gyp DeCarlo part was what I could do. If I was 10 or 15 years younger I could've played the Tommy DeVito part.
"Gyp is kind of the oldest of the Jersey Boys. He's not so much of a musician as the other four guys -- he plays a different tune. But he does kind of integrate himself into the group in a way that is supportive but in a way that he doesn't actually perform. It was a nice fit for me."
It was also in Fiscella's DNA -- sort of. After taking the role he learned about a family connection to the real DeCarlo, a distant cousin who used to sing in New Jersey nightclubs DeCarlo owned. "It's a fun thing to imagine there's a family bridge between my real life and the story we're telling on stage," Fiscella notes.
Channeling an old school gangster, however, was a unique challenge for a Detroit suburban kid who's previously played heroes such as Capt. Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" and Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," among others.
"I just do my best to understand what the guy is about," Fiscella explains. "He had a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, a lot of people who were asking things of him. He had a prominent role within his circle, and unfortunately it was a criminal circle. But he still had responsibility there.
"So I try to imagine what my response would be and how I would react to the demands that were placed on him. Gyp is kind of multi-faceted; there's a menace to him but also an element of kindness -- certainly kindness he expresses towards Frankie, almost as if he was a nephew. Once you see that aspect of the character, you don't look at him as a typical monster. It's important for me to try to make audiences see him in that way."
Building that perspective into character has been a lifetime's work for Fiscella. Born in Southfield and raised there and in Beverly Hills, he credits "fantastic" school programs and teachers for "developing this interest I had in telling stories through performances." He and friends would create skits to perform for their parents, and school performances on the stage at Southfield Lathrup High School gave him an appetite to do more.
"It wasn't so much about, 'Here I am on stage, getting this attention,'" recalls Fiscella, whose parents are still substitute teachers for Birmingham Public Schools. "It was more like, 'This is fun. Look at these people enjoying themselves and the songs we're singing and the story we're telling.' I liked seeing that happen, and I wanted to do more of it."
He chose Seaholm after seeing the school's production of "Brigadoon" when he was in middle school, and there Fiscella was active in both the drama and forensic programs. After graduating he attended William and Mary College in Virginia -- where his parents, both from the East Coast, met -- studying Liberal Arts in addition to theater. He spent summers performing with Shakespeare festivals in Colorado, Georgia and Texas, which "gave me a taste for professional theater life," while back home he worked with the Detroit Repertory Theatre, the Jewish Repertory Theatre and at auto shows.
Making subsequent moves to Chicago and Los Angeles, which he now calls home, Fiscella has racked up credits time on TV's "24" as well as in stage productions of "the Kite Runner," Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," "Stalag 17," "Black Friday" and more. "Jersey Boys," meanwhile, has kept him busy since 2011, and he's happy to "Walk Like a Man" for the foreseeable future.
"Y'know, it's an incredible story, and the music is just undeniable," Fiscella says. "You can't believe all these songs that I knew and heard on CKLW or WNIC came from one group. And at the end of the show I get to do a little bit of performance just as myself and sing and dance with the company, out of character, so that's a lot of fun, too."
November 17-December 6.
Fisher Theatre in the Fisher Building, 3011 Grand Blvd., Detroit
Tickets are $35-$130.
Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.
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