Chasing the music: Widely praised as Frankie Valli in CDT’s ‘Jersey Boys,’ St. Paul native Will Dusek is an actor to watch

As the lights go down on “Jersey Boys” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Frankie Valli rips off his bow tie and whips it around his head.

Backstage, actor Will Dusek transforms from the famous Four Seasons falsetto back into himself. Putting his costume away is almost automatic by this point, he said, so he’s thinking: Gotta go get gas. Gotta walk the dog, as a favor to his grandma, with whom he lives. Gotta run to the grocery store. Gotta eat something. He’s ravenous.

“After the show, I always need to get something in my system,” he said. “My nightly ritual is to eat my fridge and then stay awake for two hours because you’re just wired after the show.”

Actor Will Dusek sings as Four Seasons legend Frankie Valli during a 2023 performance of “Jersey Boys” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Dusek, 23, said it takes plenty of practice and lengthy vocal warm-ups to emulate Valli’s famous high-pitched voice. (Photo courtesy Dan Norman / Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

Dusek, 23, grew up in St. Paul and graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in the spring. The leading “Jersey Boys” role is his first post-college gig — a big deal anywhere, let alone at a theater with as established and high-quality a reputation as Chanhassen.

And the accolades are rolling in.

One local reviewer praised his “rare, straight-from-the-soul falsetto,” and another said he “has the voice of an angel” and particularly commendable “vulnerability and openness as an actor.” The casting across the board is impeccable, the Pioneer Press’ Ross Raihala wrote in his review, but “the real revelation in the show” is Dusek, who conveys Frankie Valli as a character seemingly “effortlessly.” He’s the “perfect leading man.” He’s marking “the start of a brilliant future.” He was featured on the national theater site Broadway World.

“Jersey Boys,” which is based on the true story of singer Frankie Valli and the quartet The Four Seasons, is playing at Chanhassen Dinner Theater through February 24. The show is directed by longtime CDT artistic director Michael Brindisi, and the exceptional cast includes Dusek, Sam Stoll, Shad Hanley and Dylan Rugh, who took over from original cast member David Darrow at the end of the summer. Andrew Hey, the Frankie Valli understudy, plays the lead role twice a week.

Showtimes are Wednesdays through Sundays, and tickets are available at

On the one hand, the praise for Dusek’s performance has been exceptionally reaffirming that he made the right career choice. On the other hand, he said, “I like to remind myself that if I believe the good reviews, I’ve got to believe the bad reviews, too. I’ve got to remind myself that they are people’s opinions.”

What he knows for sure, though, is how welcoming and kind he’s found the local professional theater scene to be, especially at Chanhassen.

“I’ve spent four years away from home,” he said, “and I know that I always have here. The community is really amazing, especially the people that have been in this show.”

Dusek grew up near University Avenue and Wheeler Street, the oldest of three kids. His mom was a music teacher, and Dusek and his siblings were all in choir and band.

For a time, the family lived in the Washington, D.C., area, and in sixth grade, Dusek played Tiny Tim in the eighth-graders’ Christmas pageant. It wasn’t a full role — “I was just there to be a little guy,” he joked — but it’s his first memory of performing onstage.

Soon after, the family moved back to St. Paul, and Dusek continued doing plays throughout middle and high school. As a senior at Cretin-Derham Hall, in 2018, he was one of four students in the state that year to win a “triple threat” award for acting, singing and dancing from Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Several years later, as a theater student at Illinois Wesleyan, Dusek came across an audition call for CDT’s “Jersey Boys,” whose eight-month run is significantly longer than many other theaters’ productions. He was intrigued: Maybe he could land a spot in the ensemble or as a minor character, he thought, to get a little calmness and stability back after a stressful final year in college.


Singing and dancing auditions led to callbacks. At one point, director Michael Brindisi pulled him aside: Could he hear Dusek sing Frankie’s part in the song “Walk Like a Man”? After a couple of months, Dusek was invited to another round of callbacks — for Frankie.

The main quartet of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ “Jersey Boys” sing a Four Seasons song during a 2023 performance of the musical. From left to right: Sam Stoll as Bob Gaudio, Shad Hanley as Nick Massi, Will Dusek as Frankie Valli and Dylan Rugh as Tommy DeVito. (Photo courtesy Dan Norman / Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

A few days later, the cast was almost finalized. Darrow was group leader Tommy DeVito, Stoll was lyricist Bob Gaudio, Hanley was bassist Nick Massi. And Dusek was one of two guys in contention for Frankie Valli. Brindisi brought the five performers back once more — both Frankie finalists sang “Sherry” with the other three cast members — and the director sent them home for the day.

Then, in February, Dusek got the email.

“I was like, holy (expletive)!” he said. “That’s crazy!”

So within days of graduating college and moving back to the Twin Cities, Dusek attended his first “Jersey Boys” rehearsal, in the lead role. And it’s an incredibly demanding one: Out of 32 songs, Frankie sings in 27 of them, Dusek said, many as the lead vocal part.

But, it turns out, because CDT’s evening shows start so late — after dinner! — even the lead role offers a level of calmness and stability that Dusek initially found disorienting. Occasionally, the cast will have afternoon recording sessions or impromptu rehearsals, but on non-matinee days, Dusek’s daytime schedule is generally pretty open. Early on, he almost got another job, just to fill up his time until the curtain call.

“I had a lot of castmates who have been out of college for many years,” he said. “They were like, ‘Hey, it’s really common for you, when you’re studying in college, to be always doing something — and then, right when you leave, you feel like you’re not doing anything. You feel like you’re not doing enough.’ They were like, ‘Take the time.’”

They were right.

“The constant pursuit” of Frankie Valli

Before the lights go down on “Jersey Boys” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Frankie Valli stands under street lamps. He looks out at the audience and delivers a final line that, to the actor, unlocks his entire character.

“Chasing the music…” he says, “trying to get home.”

Part of what made The Four Seasons so striking in the 1960s is that nobody besides Frankie Valli sounds quite like Frankie Valli. So what’s an actor to do?

“I spent a lot of time trying to figure out, what about Frankie’s voice made him unique?” Dusek said. “And how can I emulate that in my own voice without directly imitating his sound?”

Voice coaches differentiate between a chest voice and a head voice, he said. Try singing increasingly higher and higher notes — you might notice your voice change from a full-throated sound to one that causes a little vibration between your ears.

Here’s where things get sticky: Trying to force too much singing muscle into those heady upper-register notes can sound nasally and hurt your vocal cords in the long run, Dusek said.

To emulate Valli, he had to figure out how to nail the high notes in a way that was both healthy and pleasant to listen to for several hours straight. The vocal cords are like biceps, he said; strengthening them takes plenty of steady effort. And, like the rest of the cast, Dusek does extensive vocal warm-ups and cool-downs before and after each performance, too.

“I think of it this way: If you’re doing weight training, you’re not going to hit your personal record to warm up for your personal record,” he said. “So I don’t go hitting any of the crazy high notes that I do during the show before the show.”

Let’s dig deeper into that final “Jersey Boys” line, though, Dusek said. Right now, the real Frankie Valli is 89, and the man just kicked off a yearlong tour this month.

If one of his goals is to ‘chase the music’ — to finally feel at home — Dusek asks, what does it say about him that he’s still out there, performing, after seven decades?

“It’s the constant pursuit of that, every single night, that’s life,” Dusek said.

Will Dusek (right), as Frankie Valli, poses in a scene with actress Andrea Mislan, who plays Valli’s wife Mary Delgado, during a 2023 performance of “Jersey Boys” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Dusek was cast as Valli in part for his ability to emulate the Four Seasons’ lead singer’s signature falsetto voice. (Photo courtesy Dan Norman / Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

In the first act of “Jersey Boys,” Dusek plays a young Valli as wide-eyed and maybe a bit temperamental, as he phrased it. As the second act progresses — as Valli gets divorced, his new relationship cracks apart, his daughter dies, members of the Four Seasons fall out with one another — Dusek has masterfully transformed the character into a man who’s just… tired. More world-weary, and maybe more empathetic, too.

But not angry.

“It would be so easy for an actor to lean into the anger of what’s going on,” Dusek said. “It would be easy for him to have the same (reactions) he does when he was younger in the show.”

This development as Dusek plays it is believable, and human.

“The singing is great, and singing is obviously a huge part of the musical,” he said. “But I, as a person, would so much rather have someone convincingly take you through a story than sing the most impressive arias in the world. If you’re not emotionally available, and I’m not there with you for the journey, then why am I watching a play?”

Back to that bow tie.

During the show’s preview week, Dusek’s costume bow tie was a clip-on. It started to fall off after the final song, and David Darrow, who played the character Tommy DeVito at the time, tried to fix it but couldn’t.

Dusek just tore it off. The crowd cheered. Afterward, Dusek said, an audience member told another cast member that she’d once seen Frankie Valli live, and the move felt like something the real singer would do.

Now, Dusek wears a traditional bow tie to play Frankie Valli, but he still takes it off after the final goodbyes and whips it above his head in a sort of cathartic victory lap.

It’s the last the audience sees of Dusek, and Frankie, before he goes home.

And even if it weren’t what the real Frankie Valli would do — or even another actor’s Frankie Valli would do — it’s what Dusek’s Frankie Valli would do. That’s meaningful, too.

“That’s what I love about live theater,” he said. “In film, one person’s interpretation gets ingrained in your brain — this person is this character. But in theater, it can always be a little different.”

“Jersey Boys”: Performances at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (501 78th St. W., Chanhassen) run through February 24, 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling the box office at 952-934-1525.

The main quartet of actors in “Jersey Boys,” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, belt out the final song in the show. The musical, which dramatizes the real-life band The Four Seasons, runs at Chanhassen through February 2024. (Photo courtesy Dan Norman / Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

Related Articles

Things to Do |

Theater review: Guthrie’s ‘For the People’ is an entertaining culture clash

Things to Do |

Penumbra Theatre’s premiere of ‘Re-Memori’ binds a painful past to the present

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous post Harvard creates task force to support ‘doxxed’ students who signed anti-Israel letter
Next post Noah Feldman: Israel-Hamas war tests left’s views on cancel culture