JERSEY BOYS Returns to South Florida’s Adrienne Arsht Center thru April 9th.
Jersey Boys, the Broadway show (and feature film) is based on the rise and subsequent fall of 60’s Jersey super group The Four Seasons (later named Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons). The Broadway Show has been a quintessential smash since its debut in 2005, recently closing its run on the Great White Way in 2017. Nostalgic, heartwarming, crowd-pleasing, inspiring, are words that come to mind when describing seeing this show live on the stage. Of course there are the unforgettable hits many of us grew up with listening to on the radio. But it’s the story of Jersey Boys that resonates deeply with audiences. Everyone loves an ‘underdog story’ where everyone comes out on top. Jersey Boys sets itself apart from the old cliché at times rendering the audience speechless and audibly silent.
With every overnight success (in my experience) there are years of struggle and disappointment mixed in with the glory and fire. Jersey Boys is such a story and then some. Four guys from New Jersey singing on street corners under lamp posts set out to blow up the pop charts in the 1960’s. They did so successfully with such hits as Rag Doll, Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, December 1963 (Oh, What A Night) ( I had the 45 record when I was a kid – if you don’t know what that is Google it), Stay, My Eyes Adored You, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Working My Way Back to You among others. It was not without turmoil, heartbreak, passion, love, and all the things that make a great story great. Bottom line: Jersey Boys is a great story.
Original Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio (music) along with lyrics by Bob Crewe, and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have presented a doc-u-drama in show form dramatizing the formation, success and eventual break-up of the pop group. What is so unique about Jersey Boys the musical is it is essentially a four part show – each season is narrated by different members of the band giving their own perspective on their music and history. It is the unique vocal styling of Frankie Valli that set the group apart from any other on the radio or live in concert. His high falsetto was unmistakable and sharp as a tack. His voice was their greatest asset when it came to rocketing the group to fame and fortune. Subsequently it was that talent that propelled him into a solo career after the band’s break-up continuing to chart hits.
This is the Jersey Boys Story –
Act 1: Spring – As told by Tommy DeVito (played by Matthew Dailey)
Summer – Bob Gaudio (Cory Jeacoma)
Act II: Fall – Nick Massi (Keith Hines)
Winter – Frankie Valli (Aaron De Jesus)
Finale – Bob Crewe (Barry Anderson)
Within these various seasons the actors portray their characters honestly as ‘they’ share their perspectives with a wide variety of emotion and nuance. In SPRING Tommy DeVito (guitar), the self-proclaimed leader of the Four Seasons basically takes full credit for the success of the band due to his mentoring a teenage Frankie Castelluccio, an aspiring barber. Tommy did his fair share in and out of jail in the early days and had infamous run in’s with bookies loan sharks, the mob; thus the downward spiral of the band began and ended. Matthew Dailey is terrific as Tommy. His character’s ego is on full tilt as he turns the spotlight on himself insisting it was his group all along and he was the main guy. Heaping on a Soprano’s style Italian accent, Dailey portrayal of Tommy is a wannabe ‘wise guy’ who’s seen and done everything in the music business. To be truthful, I didn’t like the character Tommy. He is a mooch and blowhard. The fact that Dailey played him so well is a credit to his acting, vocal and performing chops.
Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio, the songwriter of the group, plays off Dailey’s bravado well as he rides the wave of various group name changes, playing lounges and almost a bowling alley in SUMMER. It was Gaudio who wrote the songs for Frankie and his unique vocal falsetto, finally setting the band in a successful musical direction. It is Gaudio and Valli’s collaboration that still remains in tack to this day – some 40 years later. Gaudio is the real musical genius behind the unending stream of hit songs credited to the band and subsequently Valli’s solo career. Cory’s portrayal at the beginning is sweet, naïve and innocent. His character is likeable even when times get tough quickly learning what it takes to make it in show business. His sequence is centered around the band’s early to explosive success while taking us deeper into the personal lives and their struggles with wives, the business, and each other.
Bassist Nick Massi (Keith Hines), is the polar opposite of Tommy. For FALL there is quite a bit of comic relief as Keith Hines as Massi relays his story. Hines is not a bit gregarious as his character whereas Tommy is assertive and self-absorbed. In fact Nick is so laid back it’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s breathing until he talks. Hines’ deadpan delivery is spot on and just downright funny. I personally know musicians like this; low-key, melancholy, blue dudes that are just there to play music. Forget the drama, arguments, they just want to strap on the bass and groove. It is Valli’s decision to pay off all of Tommy’s one million dollar debt. After all, he’s a brother and gave Valli his first shot singing behind a microphone. Nick, a tad bitter about the situation gives the best and funniest monologue in the entire show. Never mind the fact he made Tommy squirm. The applause Keith received was heartwarming and just what the doctor ordered. Nick eventually leaves the band much to Valli’s dismay. Massi just wanted to go home.
Aaron De Jesus as Frankie Valli finishes the story in WINTER. This is the most poinyent segment of all. Valli paid his dues in gaining success and we get to see every heartbreak along the way. Losing his friends, family and departed bandmates, he puts himself in the unenviable position of trying to reform the Seasons with Bob. It has to remain a quartet. It is here where Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons is born. After a couple more hits come their way, Bob’s stunning announcement he no longer wants to perform on stage and just be behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer may spell the end for the band. Under his encouragement Valli reluctantly goes solo. Aaron De Jesus is wonderful as Valli. His vocal prowess is perfect and almost of carbon copy of Valli himself, which is no easy feat. His expression of despair, heartache, and defiance is not only felt in his words but in the songs. His command of the stage whether it be subtle or bold is a statement of pure joy and inspiration. I especially loved My Eyes Adored You. You can’t get any better than De Jesus as Frankie Valli.
The musical numbers throughout the show are lively and performed to perfection. All the hits are here and throughouly enjoyable. I saw quite a few heads bopping to and fro in the audience. Clapping and feet stamping were optional and encouraged. The mock sets from The Ed Sullivan show and various other 1960’s TV appearances by the band were wonderful. The entire scenic design by Klara Zieglerova is impressive and innovative. Producer Bob Crewe (a flamboyant record executive who also appears in SUMMER, FALL and WINTER) played by Barry Anderson is hysterical. His comedic timing is second to none as he adds a bit of flair and good ole showmanship to the cast. He closes the show with the Finale by inducting the Four Seasons into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. This event reunited the original four members on stage one more time. What is unique about this is as they perform Rag Doll, each member address the audience proclaiming their pride in being in the band and telling what they did after leaving, cue Who Loves You. As expected Nick Massi (Keith Hines) went home. (cue the laughter)
Jersey Boys is undoubtedly one of the biggest shows to come to Broadway. It has been seen by worldwide by over 24 million people as of January 2017 in its various touring groups. Tonight was once again Miami’s turn. Oh what a musical starry night is was.