Features, Music

How this N.J. actor reinvented an iconic ‘Jersey Boys’ role

After 11 years on Broadway, four national tours and a Clint Eastwood-directed feature film, the role of conniving “Jersey Boys” anti-hero Tommy DeVito has become iconic.

The part, based on the real Belleville-bred doo-wop singer opposite Frankie Valli, is categorically clever and commanding, no matter who plays him.

But now, as the Tony-winning stage show that chronicles the rise of the Four Seasons endures off-Broadway at New World Stages in New York, a new kind of Jersey boy has reinvented the part with an extra dose of Garden State attitude.

John Rochette in Jersey Boys
John Rochette (second) performs as Tommy DeVito in “Jersey Boys.” (Joan Marcus)

John Rochette, 39, grew up in East Hanover and spent his summers roaming the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Today, he lives in North Caldwell, the town Tony Soprano called home in the hit HBO series (Tony’s house is within walking distance).

While studying public relations and theater at Rutgers University, Rochette traveled the state to participate in local productions. He met his wife Leslie during a stage production of “Happy Days” — the two had a “showmance,” he laughs — and they were both cast in the “Jersey Boys” national tour.

Rochette stepped into the role of Tommy DeVito in November after years of playing Norm Waxman, the “Jersey Boys” loan shark who ultimately brings Tommy down.

“But my heart was always set on Tommy,” he said.

There was just one problem. Tommy DeVito’s character is typically portrayed as big, brutish and gruff. Rochette is wiry and funny — a self-proclaimed “laidback, drummer guy” (he played in local bands growing up).

To win over casting directors, he knew he’d have to do things a bit differently.

Rochette figured he’d have to play up Tommy’s charm more so than his aggression or intimidating stature, and he thinks his approach might better match the character.

“There’s no violent crime, it’s just scheming” Rochette said. “He’s not intimidating. So he needs to have charisma so people will follow him. If he was just a huge prick, the band would have dropped him years ago.”

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