Jersey Boys, the Tony, Grammy Award winning Broadway musical, is still on the road thrilling long-time fans Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons while introducing the group to younger members of the audience may not know who Frankie, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi are. Of course you may not know all of the guys by name but if you’ve ever turned on the radio you’re more than likely to be familiar with their hit songs.
The show tells the story of four guys from Jersey, from their humble beginnings singing together under a street light, the struggle to be heard, the personal ups and downs (warts and all — the show pulls no punches), to their triumphant reunion at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. As the show starts, we meet Tommy DeVito, a singer in a trio with big dreams, who gives young Frankie Castelluccio a moment in the spotlight during one of their nightclub gigs. DeVito knows the kid has star quality so he invites him to join the group (which has various names from week to week). Looking to expand to a quartet, DeVito’s pal Joey Pesci (yes, THAT Joe Pesci!) introduces him to Bob Gaudio, a young songwriter who had already had a hit with the song “Who Wears Short Shorts.” DeVito’s trio becomes a quartet and history, as they say, is made.
But it’s not all smooth sailing as we see relationships crumble, gambling and mob debts pile up, the death of Valli’s daughter, and the strains of constantly being on the road taking a toll on the group. If you’re expecting to walk into the theater and simply hear a string of hits from the group, you’re in the wrong place. This isn’t just a tribute show. It has real substance to it, showing us how the group came about and honestly portraying the dynamics of the players, both on stage and behind the scenes. It’s surprising and admirable to not have the facts sugar-coated to make this a simple feel-good show. But it’s not a downer either, because the cast and the music will lift you up.
I first saw this show two years ago and the cast then was amazing, but I have to say that cast on this tour is simply even better (and they had some big shoes to fill). The clever structure of the show allows each member of the group to relate their story from their own viewpoint, breaking the fourth wall to fill us in on the events that are unfolding around them. Aaron De Jesus has the toughest job as Valli simply because he has the most recognizable voice. Short of stature he may be, but De Jesus commands the stage. Not many audience members will know much about Frankie Valli the person, but they are going to know his voice. In the last tour, and even in the movie version, I didn’t think the actors were able to quite capture that really special falsetto of Valli’s. De Jesus was spot on, capturing the pitch and tone perfectly. If you closed your eyes, it would be hard for a casual listener to tell the difference.
While De Jesus’ Valli is the real heart and soul of the show, Matthew Dailey’s DeVito almost seems like the show’s lead, particularly during the first act where he is our guide through the early years of the group. He makes DeVito a bit pompous, cocky and over-bearing (he reminded me a bit of those louse characters Jason Sudeikis has made a career of playing) but but he never becomes a sympathetic character as his money problems spiral out of control, nearly taking the group down with him because everything he did, he did for the group (at least, in his mind).
Drew Seeley gives Gaudio a certain naive charm when he first joins the group, but as DeVito talks business with him, we see that Gaudio isn’t as naive as we — and DeVito — thinks he is, allowing Seeley to bring a confident presence to the role. Depending on who’s telling the story, Gaudio’s entrance into the group was either a brilliant move on DeVito’s part or simply a group decision based on Gaudio’s songwriting talent. Either way, it was a good decision because Gaudio went on to write some of the group’s (and Valli’s) biggest hits including “Oh, What a Night.”
Keith Hines steals the show as Nick Massi, the real mystery man of the group who barely has a thing to say (which he points out when it’s his turn to tell the tale), but he does have one great moment as he finally cracks from putting up with Tommy’s antics for ten years. After De Jesus, Hines is a real audience favorite with his hilarious, monotone delivery of the lines and that showstopping outburst … it probably doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes too.
One of my favorite characters in the show was Bob Crewe, (still) played by Barry Anderson. Crewe was the Four Seasons’ legendary producer (and he also co-wrote the score for the movie Barbarella which features a very distinctive sound that can also be heard in “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”). Anderson isn’t on stage much, but when he is he makes the most of the role with some of the best comic delivery of his lines. I’m such a fan of the Barbarella soundtrack, so it was wonderful to see Crewe portrayed in the show.
I have to give it up to the rest of the cast too. There are 19 actors in the show with many of them playing multiple roles (one plays 18 roles!) with amazingly swift costume and wig changes to walk out of and back into a scene as a different person. Lauren Tartaglia (in the role of Mary Delgado and 11 more) has the fastest change in nine seconds (De Jesus also has 12 quick changes, the fastest at 15 seconds). The one unfortunate drawback to having a small cast playing so many roles is that you keep seeing the same faces from scene to scene and it gets a little distracting (hey, that nurse was just Valli’s girlfriend in the last scene). The other minor nit-pick are the clip art/pop art graphics that appear on the large video screen backdrop. I suppose they are meant to evoke the era, but they end up being a bit cheesy.
One thing you won’t be while watching Jersey Boys is bored. The show moves at a quick, almost frantic pace, with musical numbers coming in a steady stream, set pieces flying in and out or back and forth across the stage, great choreography and direction, and terrific lighting design. There is a stunning moment right before the intermission when a photographer snaps a picture and the lighting changes to make the entire stage look almost like a black and white photo. Throughout the show, Frankie and Bob Gaudio talk about their own side deal and how they’ll even have a horn section, and when that horn section finally arrives on stage, it’s a genuine goosebumps moment.
Jersey Boys tells a story of real men trying to make their way through life — and not in always the best ways — while making a name for themselves, and the winding path they took to achieve their goals. With a great cast, great music and a solid production, Jersey Boys is not to be missed when it comes to your town. Visit Ticketmaster to find tickets in your area. Jersey Boys is currently at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theater through October 2 with dates currently scheduled through July 2017 in various cities across the country including Boston, Memphis, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Hartford, Miami and Los Angeles.