photo by Joan Marcus
Jersey Boys as the song goes “you’re just too good to be true.” You’re fabulous! The new Broadway show based on the life and music of the Four Seasons scores big time revitalizing the genre known as the “jukebox musical.” As directed by Des McAnuff every element meshes seamlessly into a captivating evening.
Marshall Brickman, who collaborated with Woody Allen on the films Annie Hall and Manhattan, wrote the engaging book with Rich Elice. The autobiographical story has witty authentic characters. We watch as these blue color guys rise from the street corners of New Jersey to international fame the pop sensation that emerged in the 1960’s, following their ups and downs until their eventual induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Keeping the narration light, there are only a handful of dramatic scenes. The four guys tell their stories, for the most part, directly to the audience, so we get each member’s version of events. “Everyone remembers it how they need to.” As the tale unfolds we learn some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, some achieve greatness, and some F*** it up.
Weaved into the evening are 34 infectious songs delivered by a charismatic cast and supported by Steve Canyon Kennedy’s audio design that’s “ just too good to be true.” There are the group’s early rock standards “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.” Later hits, “Dawn,” and “Rag Doll,” as well as Mr. Valli’s big comeback hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Although it’s hard to believe, as the Four Seasons the performers, with their four part harmonies, sound as good, if not better, than the originals. The delightful supporting players sing other music from the era as well including “Earth Angel,” Short Shorts” and “My Boyfriend’s Back.”
John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli turns in a star making performance. He acts with such intense belief that he becomes the singer. This is no mere imitation. There is truthfulness to the work that is astounding to witness, as he evolves from na´ve young boy longing for success to a remorseful superstar. Singing with a heartfelt falsetto, he is the embodiment of Mr. Valli. There is such a need for approval emanating from him that you actually feel you are witnessing his triumphs in the moment.
Just as impressive is Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito the touch guy, who started the group. This is a wise guy with charm, one part hood, one part musician, and effortlessly fascinating… self righteously indignant one moment, humble the next. He’s arrogant, yet insecure. He has all the answers, but forever seems to be screwing up. This is the guy you want to hate, but can’ ;t resist liking. Mr. Hoff gives a flawless performance making the difficult transitions seem totally natural.
Daniel Reichard plays the easygoing Bob Gaudio, who wrote their music, and J. Robert Spencer is the enigmatic Nick Massi, the Ringo of the group. Both are immensely appealing holding their own with the other two stars.
Peter Gregus flamboyantly plays Bob Crewe, who worked as their manager and wrote most of their lyrics.
The women are pushed to the background for the most part, but Jennifer Naimo has a delightful spunkiness as Valli’s wife Mary Delgado. Her duet of “My Eyes Adored You,” with Mr. Young is movingly sung when the couple is divorcing.
Des McAnuff’s direction has helped shaped these skillful performances, and he has created absorbing dramatic rhythms with the stylish staging. The varied juxtapositions are remarkably elegant, often glitzy as well.
The spare industrial looking set by Klara Zieglerova allows for fluid movement of the action. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is lively, capturing the feel of the period as do the costumes by Jess Goldstein. The lighting by Howell Binkley enhances the ever changing atmosphere. Roy Lichtenstein like cartoons were projected onto three large screens commenting on the changing moods as well as the action.
Jersey Boys is an adroitly entertaining evening that pulsates with energy, drama, and rock and roll standards. We didn’t want it to end. After the final curtain call, the entire cast obliged by performing a reprise of the opening song and sending us out of the theatre singing, “Oh What a Night.”
August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street, 212-239-6200
Barry Gordin and Patrick Christiano are Theatre Critics. Barry Gordin is an internationally renowned photographer. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in Dan’s Papers November 18, 2005