Barry Anderson celebrates gay icon Bob Crewe in “Jersey Boys”

By : Joe Kissel
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The parallels are uncanny.

Barry Anderson, a performer/musician/producer, plays performer/musician/producer Bob Crewe in Jersey Boys, the long-running jukebox musical about The Four Seasons and the manager who wrote their most iconic hits, including “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

“Eyes” was inspired by Crewe taking a moment to acknowledge the beauty of a young male lover laying resplendent on his bed. The other two are performed with “Sherrie” as a medley, which Anderson says is the knockout moment of the show.

“These were basically four blue-collar guys and they had no problem with Crewe,” Anderson says. “From pretty much the moment he steps on stage saying ‘Hey, watch your mouth, Toto, you’re not in Newark anymore,’ you know this guy is gay.”

Flamboyant, however, Anderson is not.

“That’s where the similarities end,” he says.

And while they both work in the world of entertainment, Crewe was famous for not ending up onstage or in front of the camera even though he started as a model and a singer while Anderson has now celebrated Crewe’s life 950 times to audiences all over the country.

(Despite featuring a gay character, it’s been said that “Jersey Boys” is the only musical that attracts straight men.)

Another similarity is their approach to being gay.

“It’s just a matter of fact,” Anderson says. “It’s part of what makes me me. But it’s also just one part. It’s similar to how I embrace my height or hair color. I’m not super vocal about it.”

Back in the 60s, there was no pressure to be out, and Crewe dated women publicly but kept guys on the side.

“Here was this gay man in the early 1960s working with this band creating these songs for blue-collar America,” Anderson says. “This savvy, urbane fashion-forward very intelligent guy living in New York writing songs for factory workers and guys from the wrong side of the tracks.”

You could almost call it subversive, but Crewe was respected for his songwriting skills and helping create the classic sound of The Four Seasons.

For the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys, Crewe is credited as lyricist. He also wrote “Lady Marmalade” and other quirky classics like “Music to Watch Girls By” and earlier produced “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”

Their parallels continue with music as Anderson recently co-produced an ambitious trans-Atlantic collection of original songs he wrote with London-based songwriter Mike Petty.

“It’s a collaboration that could have happened only in the internet age,” he says.

Sixteen different male and female vocalists from the stages of Broadway and the West End were used to give the songs of love and life a broad range of sounds and styles.

In addition to the challenges of working an ocean apart, Anderson also lived a life constantly on the road. The recording of “You Are Home” took place in New York, London and Seattle, which was where Jersey Boys played in April 2013.

“Family is a strong theme in the show, and it’s the same with the touring company,” he says. “There are 50 of us in this road family who laugh together and will give a hug if you need it.”

For the most part, Anderson’s sexual orientation is now irrelevant as in many ways it was for Crewe during the early 60s when he led the last great pre-Beatles band.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” he says. “On TV and at all hours of the day you see gay couples. I consider myself lucky to have see the changes of the last 10 years.”

Despite working in the highly tolerant world of musical theater and living in New York City, Anderson needed some time to come out.

“It was pretty late actually,” he says. “It was post-college, so there was a lot of early questioning but being from a very small town in Wisconsin doesn’t help things. Moving to New York, on the other hand, was an eye-opening experience.”

Learning about Crewe also came later rather than sooner.

“I had seen Jersey Boys early in its run two or three times, and that’s the first I learned about him—to put a name and a story to the producer of the group,” he says.
After getting the role for the national tour in 2011, Anderson dove into researching his life and finding the necessary details to inform his performance.

“But what happens on stage gives a life of its own to the character,” Anderson says. “And it’s amazing to see audiences singing and dancing and the enjoyment radiating off them. That’s definitely what keeps it fun.”

While Anderson has also had roles in national productions of Legally Blonde and My Fair Lady, he said it’s been fascinating to play a historical character.

During his research, he unearthed some even lesser-known details like Crewe writing the soundtrack to Barbarella as well as more about the better-known ones like his adherence to astrology. (“And it will work, you know why?” Anderson says in the show. “I did Frankie’s chart. His Moon is in Taurus.”)

Crewe is now 82, and according to reports, is receiving full-time nursing care in Connecticut.

“It’s been an honor and a lot of fun to give a life and a face to this guy who deserves to be known for all the work he did.”

More Info:
WHAT: Jersey Boys
WHERE: April 8-13, Straz Center, Tampa; April 15-27, Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, Orlando

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