Some music gets inside your head and stays there. Think “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “My Eyes Adored You”. It’s pretty much a guarantee you can at least hum at least one of these. After all, you’ve been hearing them on the radio since the early 1960s.
That’s because the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has that ineffable quality of American pop: light, catchy, bouncy, with the backbone of sheer talent.
Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is not only a retrospective of the group’s many hits. It’s a well crafted piece of theater. The journey of the four New Jersey-bred members spans several decades, and brings to light not only the celebrated singer Frankie Valli (a splendid Jon Hacker), but his less well known collaborator and composer Bob Gaudio (the equally splendid Eric Chambliss).
Debuting on Broadway in 2002, Jersey Boys is a go-to for family entertainment for Boomers to Millenials and beyond. The story, largely unknown, of talented young men overcoming a Job’s list of seemingly insurmountable odds to succeed, is an inspiring and quintessentially American one.
Possessed of a unique voice that soared through several octaves, as a youth, Frankie Valli is guided by his ‘older brother’ (though not an actual relation) Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan). DeVito is a crafty sort of manager: alternately pushing the group’s interests forward and undermining them, always with his own best interests in mind. With his “favors” from friends in the Mob and his savvy street smarts, DeVito both creates and then nearly destroys the Four Seasons.
Obscurity to fame to obscurity is a familiar theme, particularly with regard to performers, but Valli and Gaudio ultimately beat the odds to retain not only ownership of the group, but a lifelong partnership that began with a Jersey-style handshake.
That isn’t much of a spoiler – Valli continues to tour these days, a remarkable achievement in itself. And Gaudio’s music continues to speak for itself. With numerous covers by established artists, many of his songs are now considered classics.
Jersey Boys closes December 31 2019. DCTS details and tickets
I do have one quibble with the show’s book, though: most of the female roles are thin as cardboard. Here’s a mom, there’s a wife, a daughter, some girls sitting in a bar. The three talented female actor/dancers (Connor Lyon, Ashley Bruce, Amy Weaver, in a variety of roles), sing beautifully and dance even better, but there’s no character work to sink their teeth into. Yes, I know, the title is Jersey Boys, but the misogyny of the times is mirrored a little too well for my tastes.
The production now at the National is a highly polished one. The simple set, (Scenic Designer Klara Zieglerova) with its circular iron stairway and second story balcony, becomes a multitude of locations: recording booth, bowling alley, dinner clubs. While lighting (Howell Binkley) is done as you’d expect, the board op for the spotlight the evening I viewed it had trouble finding the actors on occasion. A real highlight, though, is the band. Musical Director Michael Kaish squeezes every ounce of talent from the small group of musicians. It’s a delight to hear music that is so obviously loved by the folks in the pit.
Speaking of delight, there’s a little gem at the end of the show, one more reason to see it at this holiday season. After curtain call, cast and musicians treated us to several Four Seasons-inspired Christmas tunes. The didn’t have to do it, we were on our feet applauding already, and honestly, you’d think the cast would be bone tired after an evening of such energy, but it’s a nice reminder that Christmas is the gift giving season. And who says you can’t gift yourself a good evening out?
Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons . Book: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elise . Music: Bob Gaudio . Lyrics: Bob Crewe . Directed by Des McAnuff . Cast: Andres Acosta, Justin Albinder, Ashley Bruce, Eric Chambliss, Corey Greenan, Jon Hacker, Connor Lyon, Kevin Patrick Martin, Sean McGee, Michael Milton, Amy Weaver . Music Director: Michael Kaish . Music Coordinator: John Miller . Orchestrations: Steve Orich . Costumes: Jess Goldstein . Scenic Design: Klara Zieglerova . Choreography: Sergio Trujillo . Lighting Design: Howell Binkley . Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy . Projections Design: Michael Clark . Stage Manager: Stacy N Taylor . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.