At heart, Daniel Franzese is a big ol' goomba. The gay icon, known quintessentially for his breakout role as the tart-tongued Damian in the queer classic Mean Girls, is still deeply rooted in a palpably East Coast sensibility. The Brooklyn native's career is characterized by unflinching film work (Bully, I Spit On Your Grave), irreverent comedy (Party Down, Comeback), fearless stage craft (Dog Sees God) and a strong presence in the L.A. art scene (Crusaders and Haters). This August, a noticeably svelter Franzese returns to his Manhattan stomping grounds in the NY Fringe Festival with his new comedy, Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin' Rock Opera, but not before treating L.A. audiences to a limited run at the Bootleg Theatre. The funny fungool takes a break from his music rehearsals in Hollywood's historic Chateau de Fleurs to sit with Frontiers contributor and fellow Shoresical castmate Mike Ciriaco to discuss the production, Fringe Fest and his addiction to reality TV.
What inspired you to write a Jersey Shore musical?
I became friends with my writing partner Hanna LoPatin and we were gonna do another one of her shows together. She was doing a parody of Glee called Glum, and we started rehearsals, but then I couldn't do it—I had a conflict because my movie I Spit On Your Grave came out the same day as the show. So I was like, I have another idea—lets do a Jersey Shore musical. We met and it wrote itself in a lot of ways. We wrote the whole outline in an hour, we got so inspired.
What should audiences expect when they go in to see Jersey Shoresical?
They'll have a really good time—if you love Jersey Shore and even if you don't. If you love musicals. It's just a funny, great show.
Can you tell us about the guest stars?
We've got some famous people, some not as famous, but always someone hilarious. There are surprise guests—you just have to keep checking the roster. It's different each time. It has that vibe of Teen Angel in Grease, where they have a different person play Teen Angel each week. I wanted to borrow these different theater gags and pull different jokes from different shows. We have elements of Rent and Little Shop and Grease and all these different shows we mixed from.
So it's as much a parody of musicals as it is a parody of Jersey Shore?
The word parody is more of a legal obligation. I feel it's more a celebration of all the wackiness and trashiness, and the musicality of Broadway.
Why choose Jersey Shore?
I'm Italian and I'm from New York. I was the biggest fan of the Jersey Shore before it was even cast. When I heard they were doing it, I was like, "I am watching the show. I cannot wait." I was telling everyone about it. When it came out I was hooked on it. I love trashy reality TV, which as an actor and writer is horrible, but I do love it. I also love cookies, which also poses a problem.
What was your approach to casting the J-Woww character?
I thought J-Woww was such a fantastic, larger-than-life personality that I couldn't think of a funny girl I knew to play her, so I went to a funny guy, Willam Belli, who is an amazing, awesome drag queen and actor.
Plus his boobs aren't real either. Tell me a bit about who you got to play Vinny.
Oh please, this is like Interview magazine. You've got me interviewing you and you interviewing me. [Laughs] You're Vinny, you know that. And you're awesome and adorable, and fun…
I just like compliments.
…and all these little guidette girls are gonna fall in love with you. And you're gonna get these West Hollywood dudes to come in and fall in love with you, too.
Why should a WeHo gay come see this show?
Are you kidding? It's a musical about muscle guidos. If you don't like that, what else do you want? Get right with God and go see a bunch of guidos dancing. If you don't like Jersey Shorescial, you're doing it wrong.
How do you think this show will fit into the context of the NY Fringe Fest?
The Fringe is known for having wacky shows. Years ago they had a Goonies musical. Karen DiConcetto, who plays Snooki, and I were in a production of a darker parody of the Peanuts characters called Dog Sees God. This fits in line with what the Fringe does. I feel it'll have a warm reception there. We're bringing them what they like. And those shows go on to do bigger things.
Like Urinetown went on to off-Broadway, then subsequently Broadway. And that's a musical about being charged to pee. Fringe is no stranger to avant-garde, fun, campy theater.
What are your plans for after Fringe?
Hopefully we get to mount a New York production, do a bunch of franchises. I would love to see this show able to be seen in a couple of states across the country.
A guido in every state!
If you don't know the Jersey Shore, you know people like these people.
What other projects do you have going on?
I'm gonna be in Tom Hanks' animated web series Electric City. Samantha Scharff, our producer for Jersey Shoresical, also produced that. She produced all the TV Funhouse animation on SNL. I wanna write more musicals, for sure. I wanna work more with Hanna. We have such a great work relationship. We worked so fast and well together. And its been so much fun. The writing process was fun. The producing part was a pain in the butt. I could sit all day and write.
Any final words for our Frontiers readers?
Get your butts in these seats. Leave the Westside, come to the East Side and check out a really fun, rockin' show.
Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin' Rock Opera, Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 8 p.m. every Wednesday in July. Book, music and lyrics by Daniel Franzese and Hanna LoPatin, produced by Samantha Scharff, directed by Drew Droege.
For more info, go to JerseyShoresical.com.