Our Frankie Valli is Jerrod Spector, and he has a natural-sounding falsetto that's easy on the ears. He looks enough like a young Frankie to be the twin brother of John Lloyd Young, who won the Best Actor Tony for the part on Broadway. Jeremy Kushnier (the original Ren in Broadway's Footloose) is a hard-edged Tommy DeVito, the gangster wannabe who put the Four Seasons together and continued dancing with danger even after the group became a sensation. He delivers Tommy's dark side as well as his charm, and I suspect he would have won the Supporting Actor Tony as easily as did Christian Hoff had Kushnier been cast in the part for the original Broadway production. Drew Gehling is a likable Bob Gaudio and Michael Ingersoll is just fine in the smaller role of Nick Massi. The vocals of these four blend perfectly as the quartet.
The only Broadway "songbook" musical to win both critical and popular acclaim, Jersey Boys is winning in many ways. In narrative, it's similar to most show business biographies – it starts with the disappointments of their early career, then the necessary tradeoffs of family time for life on tour as the group becomes successful. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice takes us to such a variety of fascinating places along the way, though - the New Jersey gangster scene, the music and radio business, TV's Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s – that it's lifted above the ordinary. Plus, instead of focusing our attentions on a single artist, we have four protagonists to choose from, each representing a different sort of male icon. Frankie's the little angel we want to protect – the kid who married too young and grew up too fast. Tommy's the type of bad boy so many straight women (and gay men) are attracted to, while Bob's the decent guy with the level head one's dad would approve of, and Nick is the silent but deceptively smart one. Somebody for everyone.
The alternately gritty and flashy design of the Broadway production is recreated exactly here. Klara Siglarova's sets include an industrial-styled catwalk and metal chain link fence, silhouette of the Newark, New Jersey skyline, stylized roll-on pieces and drop-down neon signs to symbolize the clubs and cafes that were the boys' early venues. The stage is lit by Howell Binkley sometimes in shades of red and other times using the harsh white spotlights of the pop concert stage. Michael Clark's Roy Lichtenstein-inspired cartoon projections may be one design element too many, but his live black and white projections that simulate the Sullivan show's video, as the boys perform in front of the cameras onstage, recreate the thrill of mid-Century live telecasts.
Director Des McAnuff has pulled together all of these elements into a fast-paced show. Its presentational style befits a story that includes much representation of performance and has the boys take turns narrating the story by addressing the audience directly. Sergio Trujillo's choreography has the four moving a lot more than they apparently did in their day (based on archival videos available on YouTube), but it looks like the kind of moves they might have made had they used more motion in their act.
The songs were composed mostly by Bob Gaudio, with many of the lyrics by their producer Bob Crewe (played as a slightly effeminate gay with a big wink-wink by Craig Laurie), and one of the accomplishments of this show may be to give those two their due as one of the great pop songwriting teams of the sixties and seventies. Those who remember the Top 40 radio of the era are quickly reminded just how popular and ubiquitous were these songs Hearing some twenty of the groups' greatest hits performed faithfully over just two and half hours, one is struck by the scope and breadth of this body of work.
Jersey Boys is a uniquely manly musical and for once, the husbands in the audience didn't seem to mind being there. That's not to say it's likely to become an occasion for boys nights out any time soon, but the "guy appeal" may be enough to keep the boys running in Chicago for a long time.
Jersey Boys is performed Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be Sunday evening performances at 7:30 on October 21, December 30 and February 10. There will not be a 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, February 6 or a 7:30 p.m. performance on Christmas Day, Tuesday December 25. Tickets, on sale for performances through April 13, 2008 are available online or by phone through Ticketmaster or in person at Broadway in Chicago box offices.