Also see Scott's review of Oliver!
More than six years after winning the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical, Jersey Boys continues to be a success in New York. The second stop of the national tour in Cincinnati is likewise a hot ticket, and the talented and hard-working performers execute the singing, dancing and acting of this first-rate musical wonderfully.
Jersey Boys tells the true story of the music group The Four Seasons, from their not-so-angelic beginnings to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The book for the musical, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, moves along at a brisk pace, and contains excellent humor. Unlike many jukebox musicals that incorporate the songs of a particular artist or group, Jersey Boys contains a gritty and gripping plot with well-rounded characters. This biographical musical could have easily whitewashed the more unsavory aspects of these individuals. But it's the stark accounts of how the group found success despite a start marred by prison time for a few members, as well as encounters with drugs, adultery, the death of loved ones, and financial despair, that give the story balance. Brickman and Elice also wisely use narration divided into four parts (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) to represent the rise and fall of the group, with each of the four band members taking one season.
The songs associated with The Four Seasons, most with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, are extremely well known to baby boomers, who make up a majority of typical theatergoers. Most of the songs are heard here as performance numbers, though a few, such as "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" and "My Eyes Adored You," are smartly woven into the story's plot in an unforced manner. Other musical highlights include "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like A Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." This more natural use of the songs within the context of the musical is what makes Jersey Boys succeed in ways that so many other similar shows have failed.
The tour cast is uniformly strong. As Frankie Valli, Nick Cosgrove is a strong actor (and dancer), giving the singer a wide character arc. Though his singing in the lower range seems a bit pinched at times, his falsetto, for which Valli is so famous, is excellent vocally. Local product (and Northern Kentucky University alum) John Gardiner is humorous as Tommy DeVito, conveying the street-wise and tough attitude of the founder of the band. Michael Lomenda captures the dimwitted, tightly wound personality of Nick Massi with a funny deadpan delivery, and supplies winning bass vocals. Miles Jacoby is extremely appealing as songwriter Bob Gaudio, portraying him as an easygoing, intelligent artist with boyish charm. All four execute the vocals and dancing required for the roles well. Donnie Kehr (Gyp) and Jonathan Hadley (Bob Crewe) lead a strong ensemble.
Director Des McAnuff provides non-stop pace and unique stage pictures throughout the show, and supplies extremely smooth transitions from scene to scene. Sergio Trujillo's Tony Award winning active choreography wonderfully captures the moves associated with the '50s and '60s, but with modern day theatrical flair and precision. Ben Hartman leads a rockin' nine-piece band which is frequently onstage.
Klara Zieglerova's metal, two-tier unit set, featuring a fence that doubles as a scrim, is surprisingly versatile and evokes prison, stage, and New Jersey blue collar settings alike. Clever cartoon projections are stylishly presented by Michael Clark. Howell Binkley's lighting is professionally rendered, and the many costumes by Jess Goldstein are appropriately flashy and attractive.
Jersey Boys has a lot going for it, including instant song recognition from the core theatergoing audience, a smartly constructed story, and perfectly suited direction and choreography. The current national tour boasts a solid and worthwhile cast. Jersey Boys continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through December 9, 2012. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816. For more information on the tour, visit "http://www.jerseyboysinfo.com/tour/.