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Chicago by John Olson

Jersey Boys
Bank of America Theatre
Guest Reviewer: Richard Green

Jersey Boys
Dominic Scaglione Jr., Shonn Wiley, Michael Cunio and Michael Ingersoll
This show is like Viagra, turning an audience full of meek Midwesterners into a bunch of robust, gesticulating Guidos by the end of act one. And by the end of act two, this clever bit of spectacle has them on their feet, loving the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons like kids love Christmas. Jersey Boys is full of swagger and the sweetness that comes from recognizing all of life's starkest ups and downs. It casts a spell.

Now, I probably need to be careful (and apologize for dropping the "G" bomb), because one of my fellow critics has seen the show three times, and one of the gentlemen who services my car says he's seen it thirty times around the country (and neither appears to have a drop of Italian blood in them). But there's no disputing that Dominic Scaglione Jr. is outstanding as Mr. Valli - first boyish, then rocketing to fame, and even getting a sort of "Al Pacino" moment, taking command at a bargaining table with gangsters. And, like just about every biographical story you've ever read, he loses everything to reach the highest mountain. Then there's his deep talent as a singer, which seems bottomless, and his soaring vocal range, which seems topless. Sampling the Broadway cast recording, I'll also say he's a better Frankie Valli impersonator than the fellow on the official CD seems to be. As for Mr. Scaglione's on-stage energy, well, if everyone worked as hard as he does, we simply wouldn't need national health care. We'd all live to be 100, or we'd all be dead in just two and a half hours.

Second in the honor roll is probably Larry Baker, the show's stage manager, who apparently keeps hundreds of cues popping as props rise up from the floor and giant electronic billboards fly in and out from above. Those billboards, like Vaudeville cards, introduce new chapters in the story, sometimes with Lichtenstein-style cartoon illustrations and blazing colors. And all the actors pitch in, racing on and off with set pieces (of the physical kind), like chairs and tables, and set-pieces (of the narrative variety), like brushes with the law, the standard recording-studio drama (with the hilarious Kevin Crewell as their producer) and also a family broken by fame. But, thanks also to all the rushing around and colorful signage, Jersey Boys defies the inherently choppy nature of biography by absolutely doubling-down with a dazzling array of distractions.

Michael Cunio (as Tommy) is very brash and entertaining as the pushy leader of the singing group (and narrator of most of the story). And, thanks to some very good writing (and very good acting), he also gets to play a relatively three-dimensional character. Michael Ingersoll bides his time in the background till act two, when he turns his relationship with Tommy into a fantastic comic monolog, reminiscent of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. In the group songs, he doesn't always hit every single dopey low-note, but it was a very smart bit of casting to take a chance on someone so subtly funny. And Shonn Wiley is proud, ironic and smart as the singer/songwriter who cranks out the hits. Finally, after two and a half hours of furious entertaining, the amazing Mr. Scaglione is barely able to disguise his utter exhaustion (for a split second) before the curtain call. And then he starts right in again, for the big Shindig/Hullabaloo encore.

There are a few little problems, chief of which is the emotionally manipulative use of pounding drumbeats from the stadium speakers flanking the proscenium, and flashing lights, occasionally calling to mind the worst excesses of Mamma Mia!. Then again, many modern rock concerts (and the occasional classical music presentation) will try to do just the same thing. Director Des McAnuff does lots of smart things with his stage pictures, but turns Mr. Scaglione upstage at his most tragic moment, instead of working with him to develop a credible reaction to an unexpected death. Either that, or the director simply reasoned that the show could not tolerate the weight of unbearable grief. Maybe this is just the kind of show that requires more tactical awareness of how and when hundreds of objects are swept on and off stage, busily weaving the narrative and the hits together, rather than appreciating every drastic complication in one man's life. In any case, it's an evening of clever and often artistic thrills, with only a few glancing chills.

Jersey Boys is selling tickets through December 27th, 2009, at 18 West Monroe in the Chicago Loop. You might want to see it early, to make sure the lead's voice is still fresh. Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Music and Lyrics by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe. For more information call (312) 977-1700 or visit them online at www.bank-of-america-theatre.com.

Cast (in alphabetical order)
Mackenzie Bell: Frankie's Mother, Nick's Date, Miss Frankie Nolan, Bob's Party Girl, Angel, Francine (and others)
Kevin Crewell: Bob Crewe (and others)
Michael Cunio: Tommy DeVito
Mike Erickson: Detective Two, Billy Dixon (and others)
Alayna Gallo: Church Lady, Angel, Lorraine (and others)
Steven M. Goldsmith: Joey, Recording Studio Engineer (and others)
Eric Gutman: Nick DeVito, Stosh, Norman Waxman, Charlie Calello (and others)
Merissa Haddad: Mary Delgado, Angel (and others)
Michael Ingersoll: Nick Massi
Rashad Naylor: French Rap Star, Detective One, Hal Miller, Barry Belson, Police Officer, Davis (and others)
Dominic Scaglione Jr.: Frankie Valli
John Michael Dias: Frankie Valli (Wed. and Sat. matinees
Jonathan Weir: Gyp DeCarlo (and others)
Ryan Quinn West: Officer Petrillo, Hank Majewski, Crewe's PA, Accountant, Joe Long (and others)
Shonn Wiley: Bob Gaudio
Thugs: Kraig McCreary, Chuck Webb

Orchestra
Conductor: Jonathan Smith
Associate Conductor: Chuck Larkin
Keyboards: Jo Ann Daugherty*, Chuck Larkin*, Jonathan Smith
Guitar: Kraig McCreary*
Bass: Chuck Webb*
Drums: Kyle Woodring
Reed 1: Sean McNeely*
Reed 2: Ted Hogarth*
Trumpet: Carey Deadman*
Musician Standby: David Sarkis*
Music Coordinator: John Miller

* Denotes member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians, Local 10-208

Crew
Director: Des McAnuff
Choreography: Sergio Trujillo
Dance Captain: Jared Bradshaw
Assistant Dance Captain: Tara Macri
Music Direction, Vocal Arrangements & Incidental Music: Ron Melrose
Production Stage Manager: Larry Baker
Company Manager:Bill Schaffer
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Technical Supervisor: Peter Fulbright
Orchestrations: Steve Orich
Production Supervisor: Richard Hester
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Fight Captain: John Michael Coppola
Wig and Hair Styles: Charles LaPointe
Production Design: Michael Clark
Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Scenic Design: Klara Zieglerova

Presented by Broadway in Chicago, a Nederlander presentation, in association with TheatreDreams.


Photograph: Joan Marcus

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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