As a previous tour alumni, Michael Pickering is back out on the road again, leading the cast of the UK and Ireland tour of Jersey Boys, playing the role of Frankie Valli.
This wasn’t the career Michael envisaged as a child, as the National Judo Champion, Michael assumed a career in sports was the way forward, and even considered becoming a PE teacher, until his dad pointed out that PE teachers don’t actually get to play any sports!
“I got into this industry because of my music teacher,” explains Michael, “I’m severely dyslexic, but it wasn’t diagnosed at school, so when I came to pick my subjects, I took music, I thought it meant I could avoid reading and writing, because as far as I was concerned, I was rubbish at it.”
When Michael’s music teacher told him he needed to do a practical, and sing in front of the class, it came as a bit of a shock, “but it went better than I could ever have imagined. The next week I was entered into a children’s talent contest, and I came second. I thought to myself ‘oh I like this’”.
Michael’s dyslexia was properly diagnosed when he went to New College Durham, “everything suddenly made sense to me,” says Michael, “and before long they were asking me to audition for places like Mountview and ArtsEd.”
“I thought if I’m going to actually earn any sort of money in my life, I would have two options; sports or a profession, so I went with the profession, though I guess it’s unusual for someone to say they picked performing arts as the most stable of their two choices.”
Michael says he’s always been a hard-working person that likes to push himself, “When I joined this industry, I started adding strings to my bow, because again, you never want to lose out on a job opportunity because you don’t have a certain skill set.”
“I learned to play guitar on my first job, and I’ve been playing ever since. Then I started training again as a gymnast, and did some amazing gymnastic jobs as well.”
Lockdown provided another opportunity for Michael, “I now play in a country duo, called, One Trick Pony, we’ve got our own music on Spotify, and have a few festivals lined up for next year.”
“I think it’s the confidence that judo gave me, and my physical ability that led me down that road. I mean, picking up a guitar, it’s got nothing to do with judo, but in actual fact, it’s that drive, commitment and respect. If I want something, I’m going to have to work hard for it, I think judo set me up for this industry like nothing else ever could.”
Michael is delighted to be returning to the tour of Jersey Boys, “I joined the tour halfway through last time, so it’s a very different experience for me this time, which I’m very pleased about.”
“I think it’s a wonderful show, from the producers down it is assured it’s done right in every way, shape, and form. The producers look after the cast, the cast looks after everybody else, the stage team is amazing.”
Michael had always hoped he’d be able to return to the role, “I’m very happy that I’m getting my chance again, because I did two shows a week last time, which is very different to six shows a week this time. So now I get to really work at it, and as an actor, analyze what I’m doing, and maybe change it up a little bit.”
The tour set off hot on the heels of the opening of a new West End production of Jersey Boys, “the shows are actually slightly different, which is quite interesting,” says Michael, “I guess that’s just because of people in it; they work it so well for the people in the show, so it doesn’t become a carbon copy, which then keeps it alive.”
Michael says that the role of Frankie Valli appeals to him so much because of his hard-working nature, “Frankie is probably one of the most hard-working human beings that ever has been in the music industry, he’s an inspirational person. I’ve always said ‘the day I stopped learning is the day I die’; I think that’s a big thing for me and I feel like Frankie is actually similar.”
Michael wonders what Frankie would make of his portrayal of him, “playing a real person is so detailed and so complex, especially when it’s a person like Frankie Valli. What I really try to emphasise about him is how much he cares about family, and family is also his friends; his closest friends become family.”
The idea of friends becoming family has also filtered into the tour cast, “I worked with Lewis Griffiths on the last tour, and I’m really pleased to be working with him again. I hadn’t worked with the other boys before, but we’re all getting on so well,” explains Michael, “I’ve had just as much respect for them; they are so incredibly talented, I am very lucky to be standing next to those three men, six shows a week.”
“The alternate Frankie is just sensational, he’s such a lovely person and so hard-working, he’s going to be incredible. He gets on with the lads just as well as I do, I think we’ve got a team of five that is going to rock this country.”
Michael is looking forward to touring with Jersey Boys, but recognises things are different this time, “After last year I’m definitely looking forward to travelling around the country, seeing places like my hometown, Sunderland, but I do feel a massive responsibility to keep myself well for the sake of the show, so as much as I love a Christmas market, I don’t think I’ll be visiting any.”
But missing the Christmas markets is a price worth paying for Michael, if it means the show can go on for audiences up and down the country, “this team is one of the most incredibly talented teams I’ve ever worked with, if you haven’t got your tickets, you are missing out, because the talent in this cast is just sensational.”
Michael Pickering is currently touring as Frankie Valli in the UK and Ireland Tour of Jersey Boys. Tour details and ticket information can be found here