Monday, Oct. 17, 2011 | 5:37 p.m.
Let’s say you have a great job.
This job affords you a good deal of fame and acclaim. You are well compensated in this job, no doubt of that, and blessed with job security for years. Most of your colleagues and contemporaries would perform any measure of gymnastics just to be considered for this job.
And, yet, you are willfully leaving this job. Stepping away, or in the case of Rick Faugno, tap dancing into the great unknown.
For five years, Faugno has performed in one of the plumb roles anywhere, starring as Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys.” For the past 3½ years, Faugno has admirably played the role at Palazzo in one of the Strip’s most successful and appealing productions, toggling the Valli role with Travis Cloer. The show has announced it is moving to Paris Las Vegas in early 2012, ensuring new life and a fresh start at a new property. But Faugno, who opened the show in Vegas, won’t be part of the cast.
“Now I have free reign over what I do,” Faugno says. “Creative freedom is so important. I want to establish my show, make it a Las Vegas staple so it’s recognizable and is a show everyone will want to see.”
Faugno performed as Valli for the last time on Oct. 9, whirling through the performance with his mind in another place. That would be the Las Vegas Hilton’s Shimmer Cabaret (as we say, the famous Shimmer Cabaret) to hard-focus on his one-man show titled “Body & Soul.” Since opting to shed the Valli role back in August, Faugno has been fronting his own dream production, four-walling the Shimmer and going for broke. Faugno thus has ceded the artistic and financial security his role in “Jersey Boys” afforded him for years.
This a good idea?
“I have asked myself many times, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ ” Faugno says. “There’s some ‘should’ve, could’ve’ that your brain likes to do. But you have to go with your gut. If you’re feeling something, you have to do it.”
Already, Faugno is adjusting his schedule. In a Shimmer shuffle, Faugno is moving from Mondays to Fridays, with shows set for 8:30 p.m. Departing that Friday slot and shifting a show to Mondays is indefatigably rockin’ impressionist Greg London.
Faugno’s first Friday in this new order is this week, and it’s a show to support if you want to be see a true throwback entertainer. In “Body & Soul,” Faugno unloads every weapon in his arsenal. He sings and dances (frequently simultaneously!), taps to great effect, plays piano for two original songs (“Why Do I” and “You’re Sorry” are the titles) and borrows from rock ’n’ roll, jazz, funk, blues and Latin stylings.
At one point, Faugno busts out a conga drum and slams away on that for a bit. He also performs a high-energy Michael Jackson tribute (as opposed to a low-energy Michael Jackson tribute, I guess) in a performance that hearkens to Faugno’s earliest influences -- his first stage role was on Broadway at age 12 as Will Rogers Jr. in “Will Rogers Follies.” Carrying the music is Faugno’s four-piece band: drummer and music director Brian Czach, bassist Fred Watstein, keyboardist Dave Marinelli and guitarist Rich Taylor.
What Faugno has not yet introduced in “Body & Soul” is a sampling of his former role. Aware that even after he’s finished his run in the show, he might forever be typecast as a “Frankie Valli type,” Faugno hasn’t rolled out any Valli or Four Seasons songs.
That will change, though. When you’ve proven to be one of the few vocalists not named Frankie Valli to pull off a Valli or Four Seasons song, fans sort of want that. And now that he's finished his contract with the show, he is allowed to sing a "Jersey Boys" song outside "Jersey Boys."
“That will happen, and I’ll change it up. I know I’ll want to sing ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ because people expect it,” Faugno says. “But it’s hard to do Four Seasons songs outside of ‘Jersey Boys’ because they are so layered with backup voices. Those songs have a four-part harmony that is hard to re-create outside the show. But singing a Frankie Valli song, like ‘My Eyes Adored You,’ where it is just me singing makes more sense.”
In “Body & Soul,” the capacity to revamp and adjust his show is what appeals mostly to Faugno. “Jersey Boys” is a terrific production, yes, and what makes it so dependably entertaining is it is so tightly scripted and choreographed. The major changes detected by the audience are in the cast, and Faugno’s role as Valli has been taken by New Jersey native Graham Fenton.
“This is not like a production show, like a ‘Jersey Boys’ or another show on the Strip, where they take it to where they want to take it and it stays there,” Faugno says. “Being in ‘Jersey Boys’ was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the business, but I started thinking, ‘What else am I going to do?’ ”
Make movies, maybe. Aside from his stage show, Faugno is itching to embark on a TV and film career, having played the lead role in the indie film “Virgin Alexander,” which won the top prize at the Las Vegas Film Festival over the summer. It’s a quirky role, with Faugno playing a demure, 26-year-old virgin who happens to be named Alexander. This opens up the possibility that if a film adaptation of “Jersey Boys” is ever pursued, Faugno might be the best fit for the lead role.
What then? Faugno chuckles and says, “Well, I would know the part.”