Jersey Boys is back in Cleveland and the only reaction has to be "Wow!" I saw the tour when in played here about two years ago, and the production remains as fresh as when then. I suspect most of the audience in the State Theatre knew the story and the music. The audience members didn't seem to be able to sit stilloften they stood after a song, many wanted to clap their hands to the beat and some wanted to sing along. One fellow, on his way out of the theater, complained that the curtain call hadn't included a section that would permit the audience to sing along.
Jersey Boys, the story of the career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is a super-big success in Cleveland. The rumor in theater circles is that the show is almost sold out for its month-long stay here.
According to Frankie Valli, guys growing up in Jersey had few options. They could leave town, join the mob or become stars. Hey, Sinatra did itbecame a star. Joe Pesci won an Academy Award. And four guys met under a Jersey streetlight and harmonized. A lot of street lights and a few clubs later, they developed what was called the "Jersey sound." It made The Four Seasons one of the hottest singing groups in music history. They moved from blue-collar working-class families to the spotlight on the Ed Sullivan Show and to selling more than 175-million records (and they're still selling).
Valli is famous for his tenor voice, which he would slip into a falsetto. He had 29 Top-40 hits with The Four Seasons and nine Top-40 hits as a soloist. Other members of the group included Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio.
Fame, fortune and bad luck came the way of the four singers. They eventually went their separate ways, but reunited when the group was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the script for Jersey Boys, which is a masterpiece of playwriting. They seem to cover a complete scene or arc of action in only a few lines. Their writing is lean and tight. The limited dialogue develops characters and leads from song to song with ease. Jersey Boys features 32 of the hits of The Four Seasons, including "Silhouettes," "Let's Hang On (To What We've Got)," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," "Working My Way Back to You," "Rag Doll."
The 21 performers are superior. However, the spotlight focuses on Frankie Vallie (Joseph Leo Bwarie), Bob Gaudio (Andrew Rannells), Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) and Tommy DeVito (Erik Bates); the four actors playing the Jersey boys come to the stage with acting, singing and dancing ability.
Sergio Trujillo (choreographer) caught the movements of The Four Seasons and the dance movements of the singers of the pre-Beatle days. Trujillo brings energy and style to the production. Howell Binkley (lighting designer) received the Tony Award for lighting for Jersey Boys, and deservedly so. The lighting helps the performers tell the story. The stage goes from a small spot light on one performer to blaring, glaring lights that blind the audience and silhouette the singers.
At the performance I attended, the audience was excited about the show. The State Theatre in Playhouse Square seats about 2,500, including the balcony. From my point of view, I could only see five or six empty seats. The applause after each number was so loud that occasionally a performer would raise his hand to quiet the audience so the show could go forward. A standing ovation started the moment the curtain call began. The roof of the State Theatre could have lifted off when Joseph Leo Bwarie took his bow. This show is a crowd favorite.
Despite a few days off around July 4, "Jersey Boys" continues in the State Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland, through July 17, 2011. For performance and ticket Information, call 216-241-6000 or visit www.playhousesquare.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.jerseyboysinfo.com/tour/.
The State Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland, Ohio
- David Ritchey