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.” Under Des McAnuff’s direction every element of the captivating evening meshes seamlessly.
Marshall Brickman, who collaborated with Woody Allen on the films Annie Hall and Manhattan, wrote the engaging book with Rich Elice, and the two have conceived an autobiographical tale with witty authentic characters. We watch four blue collar guys rise from the street corners of New Jersey to international fame as The Four Seasons, the pop sensation that emerged in the 1960’s. We follow 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.
Woven into the evening are 34 infectious songs delivered by a charismatic cast with outstanding support from Steve Canyon Kennedy’s amazing audio design. There are the group’s early rock standards “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” and later hits, “Dawn,” and “Rag Doll,” as well as Mr. Valli’s big comeback hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” I know it’s hard to believe, but 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 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 compelling star making performance. He acts with such intense belief that he becomes the singer, not an imitation. The honesty and truthfulness of his work are astounding to witness, as he evolves from naïve young boy longing for success to a remorseful superstar with absolute utter conviction. 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 tough guy, who started the group. Here 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. Here is a 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 two stars.
Peter Gregus plays the flamboyant 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 brief duet with Mr. Young of “My Eyes Adored You,” when the couple is divorcing is movingly sung.
Des McAnuff’s stylish direction has absorbing rhythms, with elegant, often glitzy juxtapositions that are remarkable. The skillfully shaped evening is a feast for your eyes and the senses.
The spare industrial looking set by Klara Zieglerova allows for fluid movement. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo 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. We even loved the Roy Lichtenstein like cartoons that were projected onto three large screens commenting on the changing moods as well as the action.
Adroitly entertaining Jersey Boys 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.”
Jersey Boys opened at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street (formerly the Virginia Theatre) on November 6, 2005. For tickets call Telecharge.com at
212-239-6200 or at the box office.
…by gordin & christiano
Originally published in Dan’s Papers November 18, 2005