A native “Jersey Boy” from Port Reading, in nearby Woodbridge Township, NYC-based singer and actor Russell Fischer made his professional stage debut at eight years old in The Sound of Music starring Debby Boone, then exponentially increased his proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame” straight out of Rider College, when, in his senior year with Rider’s Westminster Choir College, he decided he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by auditioning for the Broadway production of the quintessential catalogue/bio musical Jersey Boys. Three months after graduating, he got notice that he was cast in the role of Joey, and then as a standby for the lead role of Frankie Valli, making his Broadway debut on his 22nd birthday and marking the beginning of six years with the Tony-winning show.
Fischer’s other stage credits include starring in the second national tour of Big: The Musical, appearing off Broadway in Baby Fat, Act 1: A Rock Opera at LaMama E.T.C., and playing regionally in Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Music Man at Chautauqua Opera, the American premiere of Children of Eden at Paper Mill Playhouse, and the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival premiere of The Collins Boy, starring opposite Lisa Howard. On screen, Fischer voiced a short on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, is featured in the HBO documentary The Bronx, USA, and has appeared on the live broadcasts of the 2015 Belmont Stakes, the 2009 Tony Awards, and several spots for TV Land’s 60 Second Sitcoms.
For the past eight years, the outstanding golden-throated vocalist has been recording and touring with The Doo Wop Project, a super-talented group of six top-notch tight-knit musical theater artists from acclaimed Broadway shows – Charl Brown (Motown: The Musical), Dwayne Cooper (Motown: The Musical), John Michael Dias (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), Dominic Nolfi (Jersey Boys), and Fischer, along with musician and musical director Sonny Paladino (A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical). Together they trace the evolution of the eponymous genre through their authentic recreations of classic ‘50s hits, later songs and groups inspired by their mid-century sound and tight harmonies, and “Doo-Wopified” versions of works by contemporary pop and rock stars.
In the midst of their busy national tour dates, Russell graciously agreed to take our rapid-fire Pop quiz, to answer some questions about his own personal background and favorites, and to let his fans get to know him a little better.
- I hope you had a great Thanksgiving! What are you most thankful for this year?
Russell: I am thankful for all of our fans, all over the country, who are coming out to see us. I’m very happy for the opportunity to connect with them.
- What is it about Doo Wop?
It’s equal parts pedestrian and polished, and it has a broad appeal because of its universality. It’s a true and uniquely American art form that started on the streets and has its roots in African American music, namely jazz and R&B. Its signature sound is singing in harmony, which requires listening, and what a metaphor that is for the times we live in.
- Is there one city you haven’t played before that you’re most looking forward to visiting on your busy touring schedule?
We haven’t visited Hawaii, so I’d like to make that happen! And I don’t think we’ve yet visited Pittsburgh, so I’m looking forward to that – it’s a culturally rich and historic city. I had tickets pre-pandemic for a show my friends, composer Jeff Thomson and bookwriter/lyricist Jeremy Desmon, were working on at the Pittsburgh Playhouse called Pump Up the Volume, based on the 1990 movie. But then everything shut down in March 2020, so I didn’t get to see it. It will be great finally to get to Pittsburgh!
- What do you enjoy most about being on the road?
The long drives, getting to see the country. And the camaraderie. Everyone in the group contributes to the play lists, so we listen to an eclectic mix of great music when we’re on the road.
- What’s the most challenging?
Maintaining vocal health in different climates, at different altitudes, and different call times. There are a lot of unknown variables, if you feel fatigue or feel like you’re getting sick, so it’s imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Flying factors in; travel can be really draining, so it’s important to make time for yourself when you can.
- What three things do you always take with you?
A bottle of Downy Wrinkle Release. A reusable Keurig K-Cup – when we’re at a hotel for a week or so, I go to the local grocery store, buy coffee, and make it in my hotel room instead of using up disposable cups. And Gargle Away throat care. It’s a really great product when I’m feeling a bit of an imbalance; it keeps the crud off!
- What three emotions do you feel when you’re on stage?
Ecstatic. Energized. Grateful. I was gonna go with a third “E’ but grateful is it, unless you can find a synonym that starts with an E!
- What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve ever gotten from an audience member?
Ooooh, I need to think about that. Oh, okay, yes! Dominic Nolfi was telling the audience how he stumbled upon Doo Wop music. He mentioned some of the movies that he grew up watching, then asked the audience what they have in common. A gentleman in the front row yelled out, “’talians!” We looked at each other and burst into laughter for what was probably ten seconds but felt like two minutes on stage. We still say it to each other and laugh about it.
- How did it feel to be performing recently with the legendary Chubby Checker?
I am so inspired by him; he’s 81 years old, still rocking’ in a pair of tight jeans, twisting like he’s in his twenties, and still has an incredible vocal range. He’s the consummate performer, with complete command of the audience. It was an honor to open for him, plus he gave us suggestions of what songs we should sing – so stay tuned, because when Chubby Checker tells you, you better put it in your song list! He inspires the audience as well, inviting them up on stage to twist with him, and they have the best time. That’s why it’s so important to have that symbiotic relationship and to recreate those moments for them to relive in real time – everyone gets such pleasure from it.
- Do you have a favorite Doo Wop group?
The easy answer is no, they’re all my favorites. If I had to pick one, I would dial it back to the ‘30s and ‘40s to The Ink Spots. They had their signature trope, where the lead singer Bill Kenny would bring his lilting crooner quality to the lyrics, then the “talking bass” singer Orville Jones would always come in with the spoken words of the lines Kenny just sang. It was a prototype for the Doo Wop genre. They had such panache and personality.
- Is there one song in the show that you always love singing?
Yes. “That’s My Desire.” It’s the first opportunity we have in The Doo Wop Project show to lock in with each other, and take it to the stoop, so to speak, with a moment of cappella singing. When we met up in the pandemic, we were at Dominic’s house in Brooklyn, outdoors, socially distancing, and that was one of the first songs we rehearsed. We locked in the harmonies, and it felt so good to sing together again after having all our scheduled dates cancelled. It holds a special place in my heart.
- What’s your first creative memory?
Hahahahahahahahahaha! Three years old, with a receiving blanket on my head, standing next to a side table lamp in the living room, pretending it was a stained-glass window, and singing “Climb Every Mountain” as the Mother Superior from The Sound of Music. That’s when my mother knew I was . . . special.
- Who’s your biggest inspiration?
Elton John. I appreciate his body of work, his musicianship, his dedication to philanthropy, and his commitment to giving a platform to new artists. His music got me through high school and college, through tough times and growing pains. I saw him for the first time live on his farewell tour pre-pandemic; it was an experience I’ll never forget.
- What’s your favorite memory from Jersey Boys?
Three months after I left the show, I got a call from the production supervisor to come in and join the company as a standby for Frankie Valli. I hadn’t performed or rehearsed the role for a while but it was embedded in my heart and soul. So I saw the show on Tuesday night, went through all my lines and blocking, and went on the very next day for the Wednesday matinee. It was absolutely exhilarating.
- What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Resilient. Passionate. Loyal.
Thanks, Russell, for making the time in your hectic schedule to talk! It was great catching up, and I look forward to seeing you and The Doo Wop Project on one or more dates of your 2022-23 tour.