Bravura Performances in Jersey Boys
Jersey Boys tells us how The Four Seasons started in the mid-1950s and about their meteoric rise to become one of the most popular quartets in the late '50s and '60s. The group sold over 100 million records and produced such hit songs as "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Who Loves You," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." No punches are pulled as we are told the behind the scenes stories of Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio. These four blue collar Italian boys from Jersey were no saints, as they tell the audience. Tommy had problems with loan sharks, Frankie had an unstable first marriage, and Nick hated the road and wanted just to be with his family. There are hindrances and squabbles on their road to fame.
Christopher Kale Jones is fantastic as Frankie Valli, delivering a dynamite portrayal of the famous singer. He has an impressive angelic voice that resonates with the most impact. Deven May (original Bat Boy) as Tommy DeVito dominates the first act with his great Jersey accent that is straight out of "The Sopranos." He plays the brash, wise-guy type to perfection. Michael Ingersoll as Nick Massi, who defines himself as the "Ringo" of the band, has a direct and straightforward presence. Erich Bergen gives a striking portrayal of Bob Gaudio, the writer of some of The Four Seasons' greatest hits. Jones nails Valli's swooning voice with self-confidence while May, Bergen and Ingersoll thrust up the sound with wonderful harmonies.
Jersey Boys offers a lot of funny insights into the group's hit songs. One is about Bob Gaudio composing a song after watching an old John Payne/Rhonda Fleming Western in which Fleming told her very tough co-star, "big girls don't cry."
The staging of Jersey Boys is exhilarating, with television screens, atmospheric lighting by Howell Binkley, and Michael Clark's apt and original projections that remind me of Roy Lichtenstein cartoons and are superb. Sergio Trujillo's choreography is outstanding. When the four singers stand at the microphones and sing The Four Seasons' greatest hits, it brings down the house.
The Jersey Boys women have very little to do in this mostly masculine musical. Jackie Seiden is properly feisty and bossy as Valli's first wife.
The set designed by Klara Zieglerova is an industrial simple scaffold set and catwalk which allows the actors to move about while disguising the fact that that the production does not have a large cast.
Director Des McAnuff's direction is sharp and uncomplicated. The songs, under Ron Melrose's vigorous music direction and great orchestrations by Steve Orich, never interrupt the flow of the musical. They are strictly confined in their place as performance pieces.
Jersey Boys, which starts its National Tour here, will play at the Curran Theatre, Geary Street, San Francisco through March 25. For tickets go to ticketmaster.com or go online at www.shnsf.com for more information. Information on future tour stops is available at www.jerseyboystour.com.