“Jersey Boys” Makes State Proud

“Jersey Boys”, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning Best Musical, about four blue-collar Newark, New Jersey boys who hit the big time in 1964: Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi. “Jersey Boys” has been playing to packed houses around the world since it debuted on Broadway in November, 2005. It is presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as part of the “Broadway Across America” series.

The musical biography of the famed foursome is divided into four seasons of the group’s life.  Starting out after an intro-segment when Frankie Valli (Brad Weinstock, also played by Hayden Milanes during matinees) was a singing teenager who used to hang out around clubs hoping for a chance to get on stage and sing with a band. Valli’s dreams starts to gel the night Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytik) gives young Frankie a chance to show his talent one night.  And so begins the bumpy journey to the top of the charts.

The young group struggled for awhile, changing their name (“The Four Lovers,” “Frankie Valle and the Romans”) and lineups until Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus), a teenage music whiz, who had his own  hit “Who Wears Short Shorts,”  also wrote the music for “Jersey Boys.” Nick Massi (Brandon Andrus) cemented the lineup. Casting about for a new name, they serendipitously glanced up at the marquee at a bowling alley where they had just been thrown out of.  “Four Seasons” it read.

“The Four Seasons” went through incredible highs and lows, held together by Valli’s dedication,  integrity, enthusiasm and talent. Unfortunately, they eventually parted ways as a band. Massi left because of all the touring and the increasingly smaller bars of soap in the motels they stayed in while on the road. Valli and Gaudio kept working together with Valli as solo performer and Gaudio writing, producing and arranging music. Along the way, “The Four Seasons” had help from New York music producer Bob Crewe (Barry Anderson), who wrote the lyrics for “Jersey Boys.”

Several scenes into “Jersey Boys ( two acts, 35 scenes)” it started reminding me of a trip I took to New Orleans. I thought of New Orleans because it had such great spirit–music, food, nightlife, history. There wasn’t a dull moment. That’s exactly how I was feeling about “Jersey Boys,” great music, acting, story, scenes, visuals; and not a dull moment. The pacing was fast but followable. The outer staging was set up like an aluminum lighting frame one would see framing the stage at a large concert. The backdrop was a second-story, gantry-type walkway with a spiral staircase descending to the first floor.  A large video screen, uncommon in theatrical productions, helped set the mood for the varied scenes, seasonal partitions of the play, music club names, and modern art (Roy Lichtenstein-like paintings) and more.

Weinstock did an admirable job of trying to recreate Frankie Valli’s tough-to-match famous falsetto. He brought both charm and charisma to the role. The actors and musicians also did a fantastic job of giving the audience an authentic Frankie Valli and the “Four Seasons” experience. Even when the actors weren’t singing Four Seasons’ songs, there was a veritable hit parade of period songs playing as background.  The other “Four Season” actors portrayed their characters quite nicely, bringing out individual traits that collectively made up the quartet. Song highlights included “Walk Like A Man,”  “Sherry,” “Oh What A Night,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” One of my favorite visuals was when the group was performing with their backs to the audience, lit brightly from the rear of the stage.  The audience felt as though they were standing right behind the group on stage as they were giving a big concert.  Innovative staging and lighting gave the scene a slightly surrealistic effect.

I don’t think the curtain came down once. Props were slid in and out very quickly. There were two drummers with two drum kits that sat atop motorized risers (they would be great in a Shriners’ motorized parade unit) that would come in and out of various scenes.  The cast was very efficient and effective, a few actors playing several different parts. Director Des McAnuff did a brilliant job of bringing many elements together to make one of best shows I’ve seen in years.

JERSEY BOYS runs through September 23rd.

Recommended for audiences aged 12 and above.

JERSEY BOYS
PNC Broadway Across America
Benedum Center
Downtown Pittsburgh Cultural District
(412) 456-4800
http://trustarts.culturaldistrict.org/production/32817