If you go
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 8099 College Parkway, Fort Myers
Tickets: www.bbmannpah.com or 239-481-4849
When: Various times. Performances through Sunday, Feb. 19
"Jersey Boys," which portrays the life of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, brought Joseph Leo Bwarie onto the stage. But in a parallel career direction, it also brought him a debut album.
The biomusical is at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall through Feb. 19, and Bwarie plays the role of Frankie Valli.
"Who knew at the time when this all began five years ago that being in 'Jersey Boys' would lead to my first album, because 'Jersey Boys' in itself is such a feather in anyone's cap," says Bwarie of his disc, titled "Nothin' but Love."
But it's how Bwarie got "Jersey Boys" and the album that gives his fans goosebumps. The story is like something out of a movie.
Five years ago, music superstar Carole King saw Bwarie perform in Los Angeles. She encouraged Bwarie to audition for "Jersey Boys" and he won the part. Years later, Bwarie was performing the role in Fort Lauderdale and by chance met former Four Seasons member and arranger Charlie Calello, who had come to see the show.
Bwarie asked Calello to produce and arrange his album. Eventually after working with Bwarie on another project, Calello said yes.
Bwarie never forgot Carole King and her role in his getting "Jersey Boys." In homage to her, Bwarie recorded her famous song "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" for his album.
"I wanted to do a tribute to her because if I hadn't auditioned for 'Jersey Boys' I would not have been in the show, and the show led to the album," he explains. Naples has played a major role in Bwarie's fortune. Bwarie stays in Naples when he comes to Florida because his 90-year-old Aunt, Rose Abbood, lives in East Naples. Bwarie recorded his album in Florida and his musicians on the album are Florida musicians. Bwarie used his vacation time to travel from the last "Jersey Boys" tour to Naples and Fort Lauderdale to work on his album.
"It was funny how my cast mates would remark about my tan even though I hardly spent a moment in the sun — there was just a glow that came from what I was doing in working with these wildly talented musicians, and that glow was visually present," he says.
"People in the cast take these great rejuvenating trips on their vacations and I was spending hours and hours in the studio, but when I got back to work I really was rejuvenated, refreshed and renewed because I had done something that really fulfilled me."
Calello, his producer, also knows it only takes one chance meeting to change the course of a life. He was working in a New Jersey club when Frankie Valli walked in. Calello was 18 at the time and since then has worn many hats within the Four Seasons, including bassist, producer and arranger. In the late '60's he became an independent producer and arranger and remains one of the busiest music producers and arrangers in the business, with 100 Billboard chart records and 38 top ten records to his credit.
He's collaborated with Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ray Charles, Bobby Vinton, Janis Ian, Barry Manilow, Juice Newton and now, Joseph Leo Bwarie, who he says has something very special.
"The ones that walk in who have a presence about them — you can't put your finger on it but you know they are special and that's what I saw in Joey," he says. "The shock of it was as good as he sang onstage, I was not prepared for what I heard on the microphone, his ability to tell the story of the song and his vocal range and he had a much bigger range than Frankie Valli — plus he also knew how to sing pop music."
Bwarie's album leans toward big band tunes, but Calello and Bwarie also arranged more contemporary tunes. Rhianna's "Umbrella" was arranged as a swing tune, and "Stand By Me," which has been recorded hundreds of times, has never had a version like the one Calello and Bwarie produced.
On Bwarie's album, "Stand By Me" is a big band number that Calello says is how Frank Sinatra would have done it.
"Some friends even said to me that the album really proves that I am actually, really acting in 'Jersey Boys' and they are right, because I am really am trying to do the best version of Frankie Valli in his voice with the voice that has been given to me," he says. "My commitment to 'Jersey Boys' is forever and until the day I die, I will always see 'Jersey Boys' in the best possible light because it is such a very special show."