'You ask four guys, you get four different answers.'
The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys has arrived in Los Angeles. Its tour company currently makes its home in the Ahmanson Theater where its run has just been extended through August 31, 2007. Jersey Boys is the latest story about one of the many phenomenally successful singing groups of the sixties. Frankie Valli and the Four Season is the focus of this show, and judging by the response of the audience after each musical number, their music is as popular as ever. But even if you are not a fan of the music, Jersey Boys tells a great classic tale of four men's ascent to fame and fortune in the cutthroat world of the music business, and how they virtually self-destruct just when they seem to be hitting the prime of their careers.
Our first narrator is Tommy DeVito (Deven May). He introduces us to the way things are in Jersey. Either you get locked up, mobbed up or you become a star. Tommy is hovering somewhere between the first and the last options. He makes his bread and butter as a thief but continues to try and create a great band. The names and gimmicks are always changing, about as often as the members are in and out of jail. But Tommy knows he has stumbled upon something great when he meets the kid that sings like an angel: Frankie Castelluccio (Christopher Kale Jones). Tommy takes Frankie under his wing and sets him up with Nick Massi (Michael Ingersoll), the harmony genius of the band, while Tommy himself is serving yet another six months in the pokey.
By the time Tommy is released again, the group has a new name, Frankie has a stage name Valli, the trio has found a fourth and they are ready to go out and make great music. However, all these preparations are for naught, because the band itself does not have a sound, something to make them different from all the pop quartets out there. That is until Joey Pesci (yes the actor, although played by Courter Simmons), introduces the band to the songwriter of the one hit wonder 'Short Shorts'.
At this point, Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) takes over the narrative duties, proclaiming he is immediately enamored by Frankie's falsetto voice and needs to write music for it. He demands off the bat to be a full member of the group, asserting his value and worth even at the tender age of fifteen. The group becomes The Lovers and work as backup singers for uber producer Bob Crewe (John Altieri), the man with the ear for hits. They toil for a year before demanding to be recorded as Crewe promised them. And it is on the eve of recording that Gaudio comes up with the Hit, 'Sherry'. At last, The Four Season was born.
The group distinguished themselves by following up with 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man.'. While the group was enjoying more success than they had ever known, the foursome remain as different as the seasons themselves. The more their popularity ballooned, the further Tommy secretly fell into debt.
Act two begins with Nick Massi mentioning that Tommy's debt to gangsters was perhaps the worst but just the beginning of his mismanagement of the group's money. Tommy had tax lends he was ignoring in lieu of apartment for his various girlfriends. Tommy's negligence has put the band in jeopardy because now that The Four Seasons have achieved great wealth and success, his debtors are expecting Tommy's debt to be honored by the group.
The exposition-heavy first act left me a bit confused, first because there was so much information and second because the narrative voice changed half way thought. By the second act, I was expecting it, as we were well into the elaborate musical numbers.
The second act is pretty much a one-man show, as Frankie sings his heart out, trying to keep his head above water, professional and privately when relationships with his family goes south. Now the only on-stage performer left of the group, Frankie is saddled with heavy responsibilities, but is never truly abandoned by Bob Gaudio. The comeback of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons is a shining moment in the show when Frankie finally gets the horns he always wanted. It's one of those great moments that musicals are made for: triumphant and enormous, both emotionally and musically.
I loved how the production used the video monitors to simulate the band's early television appearances on Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand. The show did not fail to give us those great moments the audience comes to expect from a story like this: finding that great song for the first time. Folks slowly gathering around a piano, where one by one, the pieces of the musical masterpiece slowly fall into place.
The costume design was great, coupled well with the Jersey-speak to keep the period piece honest. I loved the restrain used in not taking every opportunity for a harmony. There was a unity in the picture of four guys standing under s street lamp that only needed only voice to bring the melancholy moment across.
John Altieri is to be congratulated on his perfect comic timing at producer Bob Crewe. (Watch for the head rub, it was brilliant.) Similarly, congratulations to supporting actresses Sandra DeNise (as Angel and others), Jackie Seiden (as Mary and other) & Melissa Strom (as Francine and others). These women more than held their own in the male dominated story, making each featured vocal performance, something very special indeed.
Photos by: Joan Marcus
Jersey Boys is currently playing:
May 25 August 31, 2007 @
The Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Centre
135 North Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012