Friendship, music, success, drama, and survival – these are among the key ingredients in “Jersey Boys,” the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons packaged into a musical filled with wall-to-wall songs.
“Jersey Boys” began crisscrossing the country (and the world) on tour before the show’s twelve-year Broadway run ended. Even though the Tony Award-winning musical shuddered on Broadway two years ago, the tour is still going strong and Washington can boast the “Boys” holiday stop through January 5.
To quote one of the signature songs, “Oh, What A Night!”
To quote one of the signature songs, “Oh, What A Night!” This show packs a lot into a tight package and never stints on the entertainment value, which is easy to do with the song catalog by the Four Seasons: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “My Eyes Adored You” and many more. This is due in large part to the creators of the show who have elevated the jukebox musical beyond the “and then we sang this hit”-type of structure. Director Des McAnuff (remember “The Who’s Tommy”?) and book co-writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice looked at the original quartet members as four parts of the full picture of the Four Seasons rise to fame. The story is told in four seasons, from each of the perspectives of these four guys from the streets of Newark: Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Frankie Valli.
Starting with the charismatic DeVito, the story begins. Tommy – played with an edge by Corey Greenan – was basically the founder of the group and the one who assembled most of the other members of the trio, including Nick Massi, the strong and silent type – played with economical authority by Michael Milton.
Wait – a trio? In their early days, the singers from the streets of Jersey were a trio that went by a different name nearly every week, back when they sang mostly covers of other people’s songs. Once they recruited Frankie Castelluccio as the lead singer, their fortunes changed considerably. Of course, Castelluccio also changed his name to the more efficient – and still Italian-sounding – Valli (“with an ‘i” – as recounted in a hilarious scene in the show).
Frankie was younger than Tommy and not as street-smart as either DeVito or Massi. He had to learn under Tommy’s hard-scrabble wings while becoming the frontman for the group. Valli on the tour is performed with powerful falsetto and abundant charm by Jon Hacker, whose voice is showcased throughout the production. He hits the high notes with ease and is able to find the deeper pathos in such songs as the romantic “My Eyes Adored You,” and “Fallen Angel,” about one of a personal tragedy that struck him once he was a father.
The quartet would not have been complete without the multi-talented fourth man: Bob Gaudio – an effortless performance by Eric Chambliss. Gaudio brought the hits, which he wrote and arranged, starting with “Sherry,” followed by “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” and nearly countless others.
As the story of their hit songs plays out, we see their personal stories, too, and the people they encountered along the way: everyone from gangsters to record executives and even their friend from the old days Joe Pesci. Yes, that Pesci – from the “My Cousin Vinnie,” “Goodfellas,” “Home Alone” and, more recently, “The Irishman.”
All in all, there are more than 30 songs from that Golden Age of Rock and Pop included in “Jersey Boys.” There is bound to be a few that will have your head-bobbing, feet moving or memories flowing back.
Director McAnuff and his excellent choreographer Sergio Trujillo keeps the entire production flowing and moving seamlessly on the unit set designed by Kiara Zieglerova, enhanced by pop-art-inspired projections and background which punctuate the scenes. The small buy versatile ensemble executes the exciting choreography with skill and pizzazz. I also admired that not only was the story told from four different perspectives, but the director and choreographer varied the staging so that Frankie and company performed to different angles with the use of video and other techniques.
If you have not yet caught the story of Frankie, Nick, Tommy and Bob and their rags to riches story, this production is the one to catch, and a refreshing break from the usual holiday fare offered at this time of year. But be warned, even the Four Seasons – in the show – get into the holiday act for a special encore performance that will send their audiences out with a Santa-iffic smile on their faces.
Advisory: As posted in the lobby, please note: “Flashing strobe lights, loud gunfire, and authentic, profane Jersey vocabulary are special effects used in this production of ‘Jersey Boys.’” In other words, this show might not be for the youngest audience members.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with one intermission.
The national tour of “Jersey Boys” runs through January 5, 2020, at the National Theatre,1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call 800-514-3849, or click here.