Jersey Boys -- Still the Best Juke-Box Musical

By Bob and Karen Isaacs

We saw the original Broadway production of Jersey Boys six years ago and realized then that it was the best jukebox musical we had ever seen and the national tour production at the Bushnell in Hartford – its second trip here --only reinforces that realization.

 

In 2005 we wrote “No matter what your musical persuasion, you are going to have a great time at the latest musical biography that has made its way to Broadway, Jersey Boys that tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.” Believe us, you will still have a great time at this touring company production under the direction of Des McAnuff, the show’s original director, and original choreographer, Sergio Trujillo.

 

This work not only springs to life but captures the audience from the get go. The staging of the production is fast and furious and the music is alive not just reminiscent. To make this happen we are introduced to the work by a flashy rap number, “Ces Soirees-La (Oh What a Night).” But through this contemporary staging emerge the characters who will take over the rest of the show with the songs of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and the audience is immediately in a foot stomping and clapping mood.

 

Purportedly, the story by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice traces the rise of the legendary Four Seasons and its lead singer Valli from the streets of Newark, N.J., to their great rock and roll success and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. This includes their variety of love affairs, their troubles with gambling and the influence of gangsters in their careers. Brickman and Elice provide a workable background story to the more than 30 songs that fill the stage and a fine supporting cast provides the necessary actors.

 

As soon as you hear the voice of Joseph Leo Bwarie as Valli hitting the falsetto notes to capture the doo wop sound that filled the musical air throughout the late 1950s and 1960s you will be transported into that musical time. In America, the group preceded The Beatles and were contemporary with them musically. The Four Seasons, however, never became political as The Beatles did and continued, despite some changes, as a group for more than two decades. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

An adaptable quartet, they were able to continue their work through the 1970s disco scene and into the present even as some of their members departed.

 

It won’t take you long to get completely into the swing of things as their familiar rhythms and style were such a dominant force. You will recognize and cheer the presentation of the dozens of songs that filled the air during their hey day.

 

Bwarie as Valli is terrific. Forgetting the traditional poor boy story upon which the songs are strung, he sings up a storm and  makes you sit up and take notice. He perfectly captures that special high-pitched sound that we all remember as the trademark of The Four Seasons. He also gives the songs a strong flavor that you won’t soon forget.

 

It’s kind of a concert with more than 30 songs by Bob Gaudio (music) and Bob Crewe (lyrics) along with several unattributed other song writers, but they are neatly folded into the story and are often used to enlarge upon the biography.

 

Des McAnuff’s direction brings the songs to the fore even when they are just adorning the story, and Valli and the group –Preston Truman Boyd as Bob Gaudio, John Gardiner as Tommy DeVito and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi -- make the most out of even partial songs. But they do full versions of many of the songs, and you will cheer with the rest of the audience when you hear “Earth Angel,” “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and many others.

 

And though the audience for the original New York showing was heavily sprinkled with New Jerseyites who cheered their famous progeny, you don’t have to come from New Jersey to love this. You can just as easily come from New England or Texas and have a great time in the theater.

 

Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave, in Hartford through Nov. 6. For tickets phone 860-987-5900 or on-line at www.Bushnell.org.

 

This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers Nov. 2, 2011 and online at Zip06.com.


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