Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“Compelling” Jersey Boys Is an Inspired Jukebox Musical

Michael Lomenda, Nick Cosgrove, Miles Jacoby and John Gardiner
in Jersey Boys. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Jersey Boys

Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio
Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed by Des McAnuff

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Jukebox musicals come and go a lot these days, but very few of them carry the heart and soul of a show like Jersey Boys. Unlike other popular examples of the genre like Across the Universe or Mamma Mia, this winner of the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical doesn’t just take the song catalog of a beloved music group (in this case The Four Seasons) and create a new story around them. This time the songs are used to tell the group’s true story, and the result is a fun and uncomplicated musical that plays like an 80s-era TV biopic set to music.

One of the show’s many clever touches is its story structure, broken up into four parts, each represented by a season and each narrated by a different member of the band. We start with Spring, as told to us by Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytik), the group’s founder, and learn of their beginnings and their ties to the mafia and other skirmishes with the law. Next we get Summer, narrated by Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus), the songwriter of the group, and chronicling their rise in popularity. Nick Massi (Brandon Andrus), the group’s quietest but surprisingly most profound performer, then takes us through Fall, in which things start to fall apart for the group. And finally, Frankie Valli (Brad Weinstock), the silver-throated lead singer, gives us Winter, filling us in on how the band became basically a solo act: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

It’s compelling stuff, though it occasionally gets a bit too melodramatic. When one character loses a loved one, for example, he breaks into the song “Fallen Angel,” which I’m sure was intended to be a heartbreaking moment but just seemed a bit too calculated.  On the other and more light-hearted hand, another character’s loss of virginity during the “Oh What a Night” number is inspired. But for the most part, it all works – and works very well.

All four of the lead performers are fantastic in the roles, even if they don’t necessarily resemble the real people their playing. Weinstock in particular is truly incredible, playing Frankie from his shy teenage years through his sixties. Andrus also makes quite the impression as the soft-spoken (until he is outraged) Nick, and nearly steals every moment he’s on stage.

Director Des McAnuff (who mined similar ground when he turned a Who album into the show-stopping Broadway show Tommy) has done an incredible job of staging all this on a deceptively simple stage (as designed by Klara Zieglerova) and complimented by Howell Binkley’s fantastic lighting design. And speaking of the lighting, be warned:  It does get blinding at times; the transition lenses in my glasses darkened several times!

If for any reason you miss the Louisville performances of this show, it might be worth your while to seek out this touring show’s next stop. It’s worth seeing and fodder for a fantastic evening of theater. “Oh, What a Night” indeed!

Jersey Boys

Featuring Barry Anderson, Brandon Andrus, Thomas Fiscella, Colby Foytik, Natalie Gallo, Jason Kappus, Christopher Messina, Rachel Schur and Brad Weinstock.

November 20 –December 2, 2012

PNC Broadway in Louisville
The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY, 40202

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