By Colin Douglas
Time can’t diminish the pure entertainment value and power of the magnificent musical, Jersey Boys.
Repeated viewings don’t lessen the drama and emotional impact of how a young phenom named Frankie Valli, and his buddies, the Four Seasons, evolved into the most popular singing group of their era. And the music—Oh, What a Night! Every song is wonderful. Each inspires the audience to bop their heads, shake their shoulders, tap their toes, snap their fingers and even sing along. These are the tunes that evoke such fond memories of our teenage years, a more innocent time, when pop music stirred our souls and made everyone simply want to just get up and dance!
Jukebox musicals get a bad rap. The genre has been around, at least since the early 1970’s; but the new millennium has witnessed the creation of more jukebox musicals than ever. However, with Jersey Boys, an entirely new high standard was set. Instead of a fictional tale inspired by or fashioned around the songs of a composer or pop/rock group, Marshall Brickman (Tony winner for Jersey Boys) and Rick Elice (The Addams Family, The Cher Show) created a documentary style musical about the legendary Valli and the Four Seasons, depicting the formation of the group and using as its score their own music, composed by Bob Gaudio with lyrics by Bob Crewe. This 2006 Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award-winning musical is back in Chicago once again for only a week, after having played here at least three times before, particularly in an acclaimed, sit-down engagement between 2007. This much-welcome current production, which feels just as fresh and professionally acted and produced, is every bit as good as the original Broadway success.
For those unfamiliar with their story, Valli, Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi were a quartet of blue collar, Italian-American bad boys from the Garden State, who wrote their own music and invented that unique, harmonic, Four Seasons sound. Together they struggled, fought to be recorded and eventually evolved into one of pop music’s most famous and original boy bands. Their smash hits, most of which are featured in this energetic, entertaining and slickly polished musical, include early classics like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man,” as well as many of their later beloved songs like “Big Man in Town,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Rag Doll,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and, during the show’s emotional finale depicting their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Who Loves You?”
Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff once again directs this superb national tour, which features a stellar cast of actor/singers/musicians, pitch perfect sound and sharp lighting. It showcases the crisp and in sync choreography of Tony winner Sergio Trujillo, as well as the beauty of Gaudio’s songs, performed as they were meant to be sung. The cast is led by Jonny Wexler as Valli, Eric Chambliss as Bob , Corey Greenan as DeVito and Jonathan Cable as Massi. Each of these four terrific performers passionately bring to the stage all the drama, heartbreak, humor and that incredible 60’s and 70’s sound, guaranteed to spark fond memories in every Baby Boomer. Great performances are also turned in by Wade Dooley as the flamboyant Crewe, Ashley Bruce as a feisty Mary Delgado,Todd DuBail as godfather Gyp DeCarlo, and Rick Desloge as an energetic, engaging young Joe Pesci.
Audiences who’ve seen this show before, as well as any theatergoers seeing this Tony Award-winning musical for the first time, are guaranteed to leave the Auditorium Theatre happily humming the hits of the Four Seasons. There’s so much to love in this returning national tour of one of Broadway’s most kinetic, best-written and slickly-produced musicals. The show offers a talented cast telling the backstory of this internationally favorite musical group, whose falsetto lead singer and closely blended harmonies made the Four Seasons so unique. The musical’s pumping, brassy musical accompaniment recreates their signature sound and keeps toes a-tapping. This joyous, powerful, heartfelt biographical song fest is sure to bring audiences to their feet clapping, dancing and singing along. It’s a not-to-be-missed spectacle and “Oh, What a Night!”
Broadway in Chicago presents “Jersey Boys” through April 7 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.