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A CurtainUp Review
Jersey Boys in London
We put New Jersey on the map. --- Tommy DeVito
J. Robert Spencer, John Lloyd Young, Daniel Reichard, and Christian Hoff (Photo: Joan Marcus)
As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike, the grim industrial skyline has unfortunately served as a negative image for what is more agreeably referred to as The Garden State. But that is the only negative image projected in the vastly entertaining and celebratory new bio musical Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Otherwise set designer Klara Zieglerovas functional metal construction, enhanced by pop art projections by Michael Clark, serves this authentic jukebox musical that doesnt compromise or insult your intelligence.
Under the gutsy, unfussy direction of Des McAnuff realism has its day in the fact-based story of four talented young men who transcend their discouraging beginnings. The songs under Ron Melrose brisk direction and with terrific orchestrations by Steve Orich, are thankfully never coerced into defining character but principally confined to their places as performance pieces. This is a jukebox musical in which an engrossing carefully constructed plot with sharp dialogue is actually given heft by the interruptions of hit tunes.
The concerted excellence of the four principals is a major factor in this musicals success. The bravura performance by John Lloyd Young, as Frankie Valli, the extraordinary lead singer with the soprano voice resonates with the most impact. Young, who is making his Broadway debut, delivers a dynamite portrayal of the boy whose survives a bad marriage to an older woman, the bitter betrayal of one of his partners whose debts he undertakes to pay, and the tragic loss of his daughter. But just as the drama behind the music remains the propellant, Youngs singing often and deservedly brings down the house. I suspect that the whistles and cheers come from many Jerseyites.
While three of the boys -- Frankie Valli (Newark), Nick Massi (Newark), and Tommy DeVito (Belleville) -- are natives of New Jersey, the fourth, Bronx-born Bob Gaudio, was undoubtedly validated because he was living in Bergen County when he joined the musical group through an introduction initiated by an obnoxiously pushy kid named Joe Pesci (Michael Longoria). Thats right. Pesci was destined to be a movie star and the future employer of DeVito who hit the skids after leaving the group in 1970. Heavily in debt to the mob and essentially exiled to Las Vegas, DeVito was a sterling singer/guitarist, but nevertheless a hood at heart. In this musical that gives equal opportunity to each of the Jersey boys, DeVito, as played by Christian Hoff with the brass of a mob soldier right out of the Soprano TV series, gets first crack at telling the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
The so-called jukebox musical genre has been taking on the chin whether successful like Mamma Mia! or walloped at the box-office (Good Vibrations and All Shook Up). What gives Jersey Boys its authority and superiority over the others is not the expectedly exhilarating staging of the popular songs but our growing affection for this group that produced over $100 million in sales. In the end, however, it is the honest and affecting book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice that provides some real insights into the colliding personalities of these immensely talented young men.
Considering that the show takes into account four points of view, it is remarkably cohesive despite altering the perspective with generous doses of grit, cleverness and warmth. Despite the fact that there are 33 songs listed, many given in bits and pieces, the signature songs are fully considered and make their prescribed impact.
An unexpectedly coarse but credible tone is established at the outset as DeVito, with his proclivity for planning and carrying out heists, leads his gullible pals astray and lands him and Massi in the clink. Massi (J. Robert Spencer), who would create the vocal arrangements for the group, sing bass and play bass guitar, is poignantly revealed as the most conflicted regarding his loyalty to the bossy DeVito.
The biggest dramatic moment comes when Massi vents all his pent up anger at the astonished DeVito after years of putting up with his being a slob and a two-timer. Spencer also reveals a melancholy side to Massi and his unhappiness with life on the road and with his role with The Four Seasons ("Im the Ringo of the band."). He offers a refreshing look at a rock star that was not into drugs and groupies. There is a contained coolness to Daniel Reichards portrayal of Gaudio, the gifted songwriter who turns out to be the most level headed and the brains of the group and proves it as he challenges DeVitos inept and shady wheeling and dealing. But Reichards performance is perhaps most notable for the focused intensity that appears to drive Gaudio to success.
Humor is nicely threaded through the narratives. Very funny, indeed, is Gaudios explanation of how he came up with the title for one of their biggest hits. While watching an old western on TV, he hears Rhonda Fleming tell John Payne, "Big Girls Dont Cry." All the songs, beginning with their first big hit "Sherry," and including "Walk Like a Man,""My Eyes Adored You," "Cant Take My Eyes Off Of You," manages to be or come close to being show-stoppers. Record producer Crewe is relegated to the background despite his real life importance as a musical collaborator with Gaudio, but Gregus gives him an insinuating theatricality.
Although the women in the lives are men never more than peripheral, Jennifer Naimo, Erica Piccininni, and Sara Schmidt make good impressions in multiple roles. Sergio Trujillos choreography affectionately recreates the essential body language of the time. Jess Goldsteins costumes wittily reinvent mid 20th century chic. The Jersey Boys Orchestra supplies the kind of super backup needed for a super show.
Some Second Thoughts
Jersey Boys does indeed validate the entertainment value of the genre that I've come to think of as jukesicals. Its music is time-tested but the interweaving of biography and songs is fresh and original. Like Simon Saltzman I had a fine old time watching the talented quartet channeling Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and though I didn't know every song they ever recorded like several people seated around me, the easy listening tunes evoked all sorts of memories of mellower times when heat-tugging music prevailed.
The performances and staging, as Simon pointed out, couldn't be better. I'd like to add a special bravo for Howell Binkley's atmospheric lighting and Michael Clark's very apt and original projections warrant a second round of applause. Kudos also to the non-singing performers like Mark Lotitio who adeptly handle several roles.
The show's favorable reception by audiences and critics (one of whom, Clive Barnes, went so far as to claim that Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice book is "as tight and absorbing as an Arthur Miller play") is likely to lead to a healthy run that may just rival the success of the mother of them all, Mamma Mia! The all-around positive first night reviews led to an immediate ticket buying spree (more than $2 million in single tickets since the opening night). The bad news about about the Garden State's contribution to the box office and this seemingly inexhaustible genre is that it will make producers forget about money lost on the duds and instead keep raiding the jukebox for more pop groups to turn into the rare golden egg laying geese like Jersey Boys. ---Elyse Sommer, November 11, 2005,
|JERSEY BOYS, The Story of The Four Seasons |
Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music: Bob Gaudio
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Cast: Christian Hoff (Tommy DeVito), Daniel Reichard (Bob Gaudio), J. Robert Spencer (Nick Massi) and John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli) as The Four Seasons; also Tituss Burgess, Steve Gouveia, Peter Gregus, Donnie Kehr, Michael Longoria, Mark Lotito, Jennifer Naimo, Dominic Nolfi, Erica Piccininni, and Sara Schmid.
Set Design: Klara Zieglerova
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Music Director: Ron Melrose
Wig & Hair Design: Charles La Ponte
Projection Design: Michael Clark
Dialect Coach: Steven Gabis
Orchestrations: Steve Orich
Wigs & Hair: Charles LaPointe
Projections: Michael Clark
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, includes 15 minute intermission.
August Wilson (formerly Virginia Theatre), 245 West 52nd Street 212/239/6200
Tickets: $66.25 - $101.25
>tickets to premium tickets
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on November 3rd press performance
Jersey Boys in London
Ces Soirees-La (Oh What a Night) - Paris, 2000/French Rap Star, Backup Group
Silhouettes/Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Nick DeVito,
You're the Apple of My Eye/ Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Nick DeVito
I Can't Give You Anything But Love/ Frankie Castelluccio
Earth Angel/ Tommy DeVito, Full Company
Sunday Kind of Love/Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Nick's Date
My Mother's Eyes/Frankie Valli
I Go Ape/ The Four Lovers
(Who Wears) Short Shorts/The Royal Teens
I'm in the Mood for Love/Moody's Mood for Love/ Frankie Valli
Cry for Me/Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi
An Angel Cried/ Hal Miller and The Rays
I Still Care/Miss Frankie Nolan and The Romans
Trance/Billy Dixon and The Topix/ Sherry/The Four Seasons
Big Girls Don't Cry/ The Four Seasons
I Walk Like a Man/ The Four Seasons
December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)/ Bob Gaudio, Full Company
My Boyfriend's Back/The Angels
My Eyes Adored You/Frankie Valli, Mary Delgado, The Four Seasons
Dawn (Go Away)/ The Four Seasons
Walk Like a Man (reprise)/ Full Company
- Big Man in Town/ The Four Seasons
Beggin'/ The Four Seasons
Stay/ Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, Nick Massi
Let's Hang On (To What We've Got)/Bob Gaudio. Frankie Valli
Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)/ Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli and
The New Seasons
Bye Bye Baby/ Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
C'mon Marianne/Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
Can't Take My Eyes Off of You/Frankie Valli
Working My Way Back to You/Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
Fallen Angel/ Frankie Valli
Rag Doll/. The Four Seasons
Who Loves You/ The Four Seasons, Full Company
Much anticipated in London is the musical based on the lives of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Before it opened it was selling well to October and is already guaranteed a successful run in London. As a musical it is unpretentious and has a genuine quality that some of the confections created around music hits of the 1960s do not achieve despite their success. The story of their background from blue collar workers of New Jersey, some with a record for small time crime to stardom is very different. The thing is that the real story of these New Jersey boys is interesting enough to form the book of a musical without resorting to unlikely story lines designed to "fit" existing lyrics. The downside of this approach is just that, the songs don’t advance the plot in the musical tradition and you may be left asking what is the difference between this show and an excellent tribute concert?
The performances are of the first order. TheBritish singer/actor/dancers have worked to achieve a fantastic sound and an authentic look. Ryan Molloy seems to have captured Frankie Valli’s amazing falsettos and vocal range and it is a real pleasure to see him onstage singing those classic hits like "Rag Doll" and "Sherry". Glenn Carter who plays Tommy DeVito has a brilliant voice and his singing of " Earth Angel" is a triumph. The choreographic moves are like the original but of course now seem a tad dated and will make us smile rather than wanting to join in to imitate them, but the foot tapping songs seem as fresh as they were in the 1960s. The repertoire is so extensive that, despite Britain being in the grip of Beatlemania, the other Liverpudlian groups and the Rolling Stones, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were regular visitors to the British Hit Parade Top Ten and their songs are well known here.
A full review of the original New York production, with song list, follows these notes. See also Curtainup's Los Angeles critic's review of the American touring production: Jersey Boys-LA
. The credits are the same as those for New York. The British cast follows. \: Ryan Molloy, Stephen Ashfield, Philip Bulcock, Glenn Carter, (Scott Monello will at certain performances play Frankie Valli); alsoSimon Adkins, Paul Ayres, Suzy Bastone, Laura Brydon, Michelle Francis, Jye Frasca, Lucinda Gill, Mark Isherwood, Kieran Jae, Tee Jaye, Tom Lorcan, Stuart Milligan, Amy Pemberton, Joseph Prouse, Griffin Stevens, Graham Vick, Ben Wheeler
Box Office: 0844 482 5151
Booking to 18th October 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 19th March 2008 at the Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton street, London W1 (Tube: Leicester Square)
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