|‘Jersey Boys’ brings rock 'n’ roll to center stage|
|Written by Douglas Bridges-O’Connor, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Monday, 30 April 2012 12:01|
To some, the idea of a documentary-style jukebox musical might seem a bit busy. However, the Tony-winning “Jersey Boys” is just that, and so much more.
Featuring familiar gems of post-World War II American pop culture and a strong book, the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons will silence even the most skeptical of naysayers.
“Jersey Boys” chronicles the lives of the original members of The Four Seasons, from their days as blue collar boys singing radio hits under streetlights, to the quartet becoming one of the best-selling groups of all time, to the legendary band’s eventual break up, to their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The show also makes a point to touch on key events in band members’ personal lives that influenced some of The Four Seasons’ biggest hits while still maintaining the exhilaration of witnessing a group of artists discover themselves.
The story begins in 1953 and introduces the original members of The Four Seasons when there were little more than four boys from Jersey: Tommy DeVito (Adam Zelasko), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd), and — of course — Frankie “Valli” Castelluccio (Joseph Leo Bwarie).
The musical is separated into four “seasons,” each narrated by a different member of the band. Act 1 consists of spring and summer, the band’s early years and rise to fame; Act 2 consists of fall and winter, when things started going south for the British Invasion-proof band. Each member shares a different perspective on the band and his contribution to it.
Zelasko’s scheming, financially reckless Tommy DeVito was spot on, complete with trademark swagger and thick Jersey accent. His acting was particularly notable because Zelasko is a swing — an understudy who prepares for several roles, and is often required to fill the role of another actor at a moment’s notice.
Truman successfully played up the talented, yet naïve Bob Gaudio, whose songwriting skills helped launch The Four Seasons’ streak of fame.
Lomenda flawlessly illustrated Nick Massi’s feelings of being the “Ringo” of the group, and his repeated interest in “starting his own group.”
However, Bwarie received the most applause and praise for his portrayal of Frankie Valli. His flawless solos pulled your heart up into your throat with a falsetto switch, then sent it plummeting back with a key change. Without a doubt, Bwarie could very well have brought the house down all on his own.
The show was largely interactive, with each narration mentioned above breaking the four-wall and the audience’s participation as the in-show audiences during many of Act 1’s musical numbers, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” After those numbers, cast members often bowed and waved to the cheering crowds, both seated on the floor and in the balcony.
The set was minimal, consisting of a lighted silhouette of a neighborhood backdrop, a retractable chain-link fence, and a catwalk, capturing the industrial grittiness and appeal of the New Jersey Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons called home. From scene to scene, a series of impressionistic set features including a recording studio, nightclub and even the stage of “The Ed Sullivan Show” graced the stage.
In my humble opinion one of the most impressive features of “Jersey Boys” was the use of a few cameras to create amazing special effects. During “The Ed Sullivan Show” scene, vintage cameras — dressing for the modern cameras inside — capture the The Four Seasons singing and dancing their hearts out and then relay the black-and-white footage to a large screen housed above the main stage and effectively pulling the audience deeper into the world of Jersey Boys.
One would assume that Jersey Boys would strictly appeal to more mature audiences, but the show is equally engaging to younger viewers. After all, the show’s opening number is “Ces Soirées-la,” a 2000 hip-hop version of The Four Seasons’ 1975 chart-topper “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” And the younger crowd is sure to recognize the original version of “Beggin’,” which was covered by Madcon in 2008.
While some may argue the premise of “Jersey Boys” seems too busy or even boring, the show thankfully avoids contrived sentimentality and, yes, even predictability with its compelling characterizations and its R-rated dialogue. This classic tale of pursuing the great American dream is sure to receive standing O’s from theater lovers both young and old.