A ‘Jersey boy’ hits Broadway

By Allie Ward

Russell Fischer, 22, walked off the stage of the August Wilson Theater during intermission and took notes.

“I sat with a notebook and pencil and tried to write everything down,” he said. “I wanted to have a memoir or a record of it.”

Fischer, a 2008 graduate of Westminster Choir College (WCC), is referring to his Broadway debut as Joey in the Tony Award-winning show Jersey Boys. A Woodbridge native, this real-life “Jersey boy” took his first Broadway bow on Sept. 21.

“It all happened so, so quickly,” Fischer said. “[It was] terrifying only because the expectations are so high and everyone brings their A-game.”

Fischer had been working at an arts festival in South Carolina and actually missed the open call.

“I sent in a headshot, a cover letter and a résumé to the casting director, in hopes that maybe they would give me an audition,” he said. “Two weeks later, they called and asked if I would like to come in.”

Jersey Boys tells the story of the creation of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, a popular rock ’n’ roll band in the ’60s. The show features well-known songs such as “Sherry,” “Oh, What a Night” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Fischer plays Joey, the man responsible for bringing the band together. However, Fischer is also an understudy for the role of Frankie Valli.

“They sent me to ‘Frankie camp,’ a week of intensive training for the role of Frankie Valli,” he said. “Usually ‘Joeys’ are ‘Frankies’-in-training.”

With close to 30 songs to memorize, on top of choreography and lines, preparing for a Broadway show is no small task. Yet, Fischer found the experience incredible.

“It was magical and very liberating,” he said. “[It was] almost like a test or a cumulative review of everything I’d learned [at WCC].”

A music theater major, Fischer’s goal had always been to be onstage, and he felt that his time at WCC was well-spent.

“I really honed in on vocal technique, training and maintenance, which has helped me tremendously with doing eight shows a week,” he said.

Nova Thomas, assistant professor of voice at WCC, believes Fischer’s achievement speaks volumes about the school.

“To have a student go to Broadway so soon [after graduating] is unbelievable,” said Thomas. “I’m thrilled because I think it speaks to the level of training and rigor in the classroom and the unique focus of Westminster.”

Anne Sears, director of External Affairs for WCC, thinks it is Fischer’s ability to jump headfirst into a role that has helped him succeed.

“Russell certainly has great talent,” she said. “Beginning with his very first appearance at Westminster, everyone remarked on his ability to connect with the audience. He really becomes the character he’s playing.”

Thomas describes Fischer as a “committed storyteller, energized and hardworking.”

Although the stage is his home right now, Fischer is interested in behind-the-scenes work as well.

“When I retire, I’d like to be the artistic director of my own theater,” he said. “[I want] to always have a place in the theater; whether it’s performing or being on the other side of the stage, I’m happy.”

With eight shows a week, one would think that a Broadway star is always on the go, but Fischer tries to “escape” every now and then.

“I have friends in the city and we’ll go out to lunch or spend quality time together,” he said. “[They’re] my backbone, my support.”

From the age of 5, Fischer knew he wanted to entertain, and now, fully trained and prepared, he is making his dream come true.

“It’s truly a blessing,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

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