Interview: Norton James (Jersey Boys)
Norton James grew up surrounded by music.
His home in Burbage, Leicestershire always had music playing. That music was often that of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
The blue collar boys were pop sensations around the world, rising to fame throughout the 1960s and writing songs that remain forever favourites. Their hits include ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like A Man’; songs guaranteed to get every foot tapping at a family get-together - sweet, upbeat and irresistible.
Jersey Boys tells the story of the boys behind the band. Norton portrays Norm Waxman, who he describes as “a mobster, a loan shark for one of the mafia families.”
“He’s an interesting character as he only has a couple of scenes but each one is so vital to the storyline of the show.” Norton explains, “I try to play him as a calm, collected guy as in reality he’s probably making 3 calls a day chasing money from numerous people that have come unstuck borrowing money for the families.”
Norton’s passion for the arts started when a school teacher, Tom Goodluck, cast him as Mr Bumble in the production of Oliver! as Mr Bumble. Since then he’s performed in various productions on land and at sea, chasing the thrill of telling stories in front of audiences.
It has always been a dream of his to perform in Jersey Boys, but when it comes to living the show if he had a chance, Norton isn’t so keen.
If he were to ever come into contact with Norm, he laughs, “I would be very polite, offer him a drink, go to use the bathroom and get out of there as quick as possible!”
“In all seriousness if the opportunity was there and it was set up in the right way I would just let him talk and take in any stories he felt comfortable sharing as it fascinates me. It’s a criminal underworld I know so little about I would just want to take everything in.”
Jersey Boys as a show has it all. “Humour, despair, it covers everything!” Norton agrees. It’s pretty much characterised on fan favourite song, ‘Oh What A Night!’
As a biopic, the story is pretty spectacular. It’s a real rollercoaster of emotions. “The script could stand alone as a play,” Norton says.
However, the songs really swell in their context as the story behind them unfolds. They’re partnered with tight and precise choreography with moments of laughter, heartbreak and tenderness. The show has played around the world, and was the first one that Norton was able to experience on Broadway.
Like the music, it is standing the test of time and inspiring new generations. The songs are shared within families and shape relationships and form memories. Most of the songs, you probably don’t realise are that of the band.
“[The Four Seasons] are real musicians and the songs, from the vocals lines to the harmonies to the instrumentation, are incredible!” Norton enthuses.
“They influence so many people, even today. A brand new sound and style was created when they got together and I think any group of musicians that can do that will always be timeless.
“Frankie’s voice is something that is so different to anything else there has ever been and probably ever will be. Some bands have that incredible power to almost create their own genre that can cross many styles such as The Four Seasons or Queen and I think anyone that can do that will always stand the test of time.”
The Jersey Boys is currently playing at The Alexandra, Birmingham until the New Year. It’ll later tour the UK, opening at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.
Book a ticket and find out how four guys singing under a streetlamp in New Jersey was turned into one of the best musicals to have been created in the last 20 years.