By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
When Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in 2005, it presented the public with a jukebox musical significantly different from many of the others that preceded it. This was the the true story of the formation of the group of four New Jersey male singers who had achieved stardom as The Four Seasons and their music.
Unlike Mamma Mia! and more recent musicals like Margaritaville, the Marhall Brickman and Rick Elice-penned book that serves as the framework for the musical selections is fictional. With Jersey Boys there is a language of the streets and a grittiness that is tethered in reality. The real life stories of Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli were better than any contrived script could ever be.
And then there was the music. Hit after hit by Gaudio (with lyrics by Bob Crewe) were worked into the book so as to lend an impressiveness to their musical achievements. After a number of late Fifties and early Sixties classics in the first act, we witness their rise with songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Dawn.” And that’s just the end of the first act.
The latest iteration of Jersey Boys is ending its run at the Saenger Theater before heading off to other venues across the country, but it continues the high standards set for it by the original Broadway cast. The core cast of Eric Chambliss (Tommy DeVito), Michael Milton (Nick Massi), Ashley Bruce (Bob Gaudio) and Jon Hacker (Frankie Valli) are an amazing amalgam of harmonious singers, while each establishing a persona that is distinctly his own.
The supporting cast of 11 other male and female players contribute another 30 or more characters in very creative ways so as to move the action effectively representing the passage of four decades that covers the breadth of their careers. Along the way, the group experiences setbacks that take away the sheen from some of their most celebrated of musical sales figures.
They start out as streets punks with a gift for vocalizations and transform into one of the most successful musical entities with a front man, a horn section and more.
The focus of the show is on Hacker and his amazing falsetto that closely parallels the gifted voice of Frankie Valli’s. His distinctive vocal style notwithstanding, Hacker also has the ability to pull the audience along as he moves his character realistically from a naïve street kid with a dream to that of a seasoned professional performer with backup singers, a brass section, fully-realized costumes and exciting stage lighting.
Corey Greenan, as Tommy DeVito, casts the biggest shadow over the cast. A petty criminal who graduates into felonies, he possesses the hubris of a self-important and self-possessed hedonist, who only cares about himself while serving as the manager of the group. He is the free radical that spins the group into difficulties and hardships and it is only when the group makes a break from him that Valli and Gaudio, through their begin to achieve lasting success.
As Gaudio, Chambliss is self-assured and confident in his musical abilities. His endearing character is the yin to DeVito’s yang and he has a profound influence on the group, not only as the architect of their hits, but as a voice of reason.
Rounding out the last of the four primary cast members is Milton, who goes along with the other members rather than think for himself. Were he to have had a bit more backbone instead of some cheesy New Jersey machismo, he might have been perceived to be less of a cartoon-like character.
Andrés Acosta plays a succession of minor characters including mobster Gyp DeCarlo, Tommy Devito’s brother Nick and others. Sean McGee channels lyricist and producer Bob Crewe plus several other male figures. Ashley Bruce, Connor Lyon and Amy Weaver account for most of the female supporting roles including those of Valli’s wife Mary Delgado and daughter Francine.
Inventive blending of historic footage with live video feeds are incorporated into the show to give a polished broadcast look to TV appearances on popular dance shows and on network shows like the Ed Sullivan Show. The original choreography by Sergio Trujillo serves to accentuate the performances with cast members moving laterally or vertically across the well-constructed scenic design by Klara Zieglerova.
Music director Michael Kaish led a small orchestra whose bright and full sound filled the voluminous Saenger Theater with the joyful and exhilarating sounds of the innocent era of the early Sixties. After 15 years on Broadway, in the West End and on various tours across the globe, the formula for Jersey Boys still works and entertains with the story of four boys from the street whose voices carried them to the pinnacle of the music charts and into the hearts of America.
Directed by Des McAnuff, Jersey Boys (The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons) continues its national tour across America through June, 2020. For more information on the tour, click here.