May 28th, 2017
(JonesCrow)by Susan King for the Los Angeles Times
For 18 seasons, Mark Ballas was arguably one of the most innovative dancers and choreographers on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” The two-time champion and nine-time finalist on the competition series even earned an Emmy nomination for his work in 2011.
But now Ballas, a graduate of the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, is concentrating on a life in the theater. He was the final Frankie Valli in the Broadway run of “Jersey Boys,” the Tony Award-winning musical about the Four Seasons, which closed in January after more than 4,000 performances. Ballas is reprising the role in the national tour, running through June 24 at the Ahmanson Theatre.
The actor, 31, is also half of the musical duo Alexander Jean with his wife, BC Jean. Their debut EP, “Head High,” hit No. 1 on iTunes singer-songwriter chart last year. Ballas recently spoke with The Times for this edited conversation about music, theater and yes, those tattoos.
Had you seen “Jersey Boys” before you became the last Frankie Valli on Broadway?
I wanted to be in the show since it came out. I got tickets to see it in the West End in London the week it opened. I had seen the show 12 times when I auditioned.
Why was “Jersey Boys” music to your ears?
I grew up singing the music. My grandfather and my father loved the Four Seasons. And the story line is such a gangster. These guys are men. They are from the ’hood. They came from nothing. I can relate to that. My mom [Shirley Ballas] came from a really rough neighborhood in Liverpool and became the biggest dance coach in the world.
You had seen so many actors play Valli. Was it difficult to bring your own touches to the role?
I definitely wanted to do my own thing. I would watch interviews with the real Frankie. I would watch videos of him in performance. He’s quite a quiet person, but he also has those explosive moments in the show. He’s a tough guy.
What was it like when you finally met Valli at the last performance on Broadway?
Peter Gregus, who played Bob Crewe and was with the show for 11 years, said at intermission, “Don’t be upset if he doesn’t say much to you after the show.” After the show, Frankie comes up to me and gives me a big hug, kisses me on the cheek and shakes my hand and says, “Kid, you were awesome.” Peter said, “That’s the best review you could have gotten.”
Any plans to return to “Dancing With the Stars”?
Right now, I don’t know. I went to musical theater college and graduated with honors and it’s nice to put that to use now. The dancing thing I always did on the side. It was something I loved.
Do you have any other musical roles on your bucket list?
My dream is to do Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway or on a big stage.
I have to ask: Have you gotten any new tattoos recently?
The most recent one is on my left inside arm. I have a female lioness with my wife’s initials buried in the chest.