Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Chanhassen is a large house, but it feels intimate relative to the Orpheum. Michael Brindisi's staging at Chanhassen makes the most of that scale, ideally suited to the show's structure which gives each member of the original Four Seasons the opportunity to narrate the group's rise, along with the tough bumps they suffered along the way from their own perspective. The quartet–Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi–have distinctive personalities, and for each, the group held a different place in the context of their life. The result is a Rashomon-like presentation in which we piece together the truth (if such a thing exists) by listening closely to the tale as told by each of those who lived it. Their stories include mob ties and threats of violence, deep gambling debts, failed relationships, estranged children, the loneliness of the road, and professional rivalries.
If that sounds like serious dramatic work, it is. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice does a masterful job of weaving those strands into a compelling narrative. The show leavens the heaviness with wonderful, upbeat (mostly) songs, most of which I have known since they hit the airwaves in my childhood, but which sound better every time I hear them. The actors on stage, and the Chanhassen Orchestra of ten musicians ably conducted by Andy Kust, give every song a sublime delivery. Some of the song placements correspond to their actual release date as part of the group's journey, including "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like a Man," three consecutive number one hits that put the Four Seasons atop the charts. Others are inserted out of sequence of their release date to underscore an emotional twist in the story, be those exuberant–"December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)"–or sad, such as "My Eyes Adored You" and "Fallen Angel"–moments.
Also, don't be misled to think that in describing the show as "intimate" I am saying that it is small. When all twenty cast members take the stage to put over a number, the show feels robustly larger than life. I use the term "intimate" in regard to the connection it fosters between the audience and each of the principals as they open their hearts to us, like a couple of friends sitting at a corner table in one of the many neighborhood bars depicted in the course of the show. That Jersey Boys manages to exist in both dimensions, and excel in both, is part of what makes it so special.
Chanhassen's production further makes the show rapturous by including four impeccably cast actors for the lead roles. The four characters share, to differing degrees, an Italian-American heritage, which they convey as part of the context of their lives. David Darrow is first in the spotlight as Tommy DeVito, and shines with a spot-on Jersey accent, a bad-boy demeanor cultivated by hanging around mobsters, and a take-charge attitude as likely to get him in trouble as not. As Bob Gaudio, Sam Stoll conveys the self-confidence Gaudio had in his talent and his worth, and a clear sense of who he can trust and who he can't. Happily, Shad Hanley hasn't left Chanhassen since his wonderful turn as Trent Oliver in their prior production, The Prom, but is now transformed into a bona fide Jersey boy, with the diction, mannerisms, and a streak of paranoia that goes with the title. Last in the spotlight as far as narration, but in center ring vocally throughout, is Will Dusek's spectacular performance as Frankie Valli. Valli's falsetto was the most striking element of the Four Season's sound, and Dusek replicates it with aplomb, while conveying a wide range of emotions, from elation to fury to heartbreak, with utter conviction.
About Will Dusek: In June, 2018, having just completed his junior year at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, he was one of four state-wide winners of the prestigious Triple Threat Musical Theater Award sponsored by Hennepin Theater Trust's Spotlight Program. This award recognizes individuals who demonstrate excellence in acting, singing and dancing. Winners from states across the country receive an all-expenses paid summer trip to New York where they meet industry professionals, participate in workshops, and attend Broadway shows. Five years later, with high school and college behind him and a BFA in Music Theatre in hand, he is making his Chanhassen debut, and as far as I can tell, his professional Twin Cities debut. From what I saw, this is the start of a brilliant future. To seal the deal, just wait for his stop-the-show delivery of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" in Act Two.
Although three of the four group members played instruments (all but Valli), the Four Seasons were a singing group, not a band. Vocal harmonies were their glory, blending Gaudio's tenor voice, DeVito's baritone, Massi's bass, and crowned by Valli's falsetto. The four actors here–Darrow, Dusek, Hanley and Stoll–each sing exceedingly well and when their voices harmonize, the sound is divine.
The other sixteen cast members all do first rate work taking on various smaller roles, with Andrea Mislan as Valli's wife Mary Delgado, Jon Andrew Hegge as sinister debt collector Norm Waxman, Laura Rudolph as a journalist who falls for Frankie, and Mark King as eccentric–but very successful–producer Bob Crewe all making sharp impressions. Michael Gruber's otherwise convincing portrayal of mob boss Gyp DeCarlo is marred by over-milking his emotional response to Frankie's rendition of "My Mother's Eyes." The entire ensemble works well collectively to magnify the delivery of several of the songs.
As in the Broadway and touring productions of Jersey Boys, the set designed by Nayna Ramey is a simple affair with a rear stage bridge, anchored by stairwells on either side, allowing Brindisi to position actors and ensemble groupings in a variety of ways, as an abundance of cocktail bars, desks, tables, and recording consoles set on wheels are quickly whisked on and off stage as needed. Sue Ellen Berger's lighting is instrumental in focusing on specific points that require our attention, and on setting the emotional tone for each song's presentation, while Russ Haynes' sound design ensures that it all sounds terrific. As for Rick Hamson's costumes, when they aren't bedecked in Vegas-style glitter, they bring home the character's 1950s and 1960s working class origins. Today, those shirts would be hot items on the rack of a vintage store. Hair designer Amanda Levens also catches just vibes of that era.
Opening in 2005, Jersey Boys enjoyed a long Broadway run–it currently ranks as the twelfth longest run of any Broadway show– followed by an Off-Broaddway production. Touring productions have made several stops in the Twin Cities. There was also a film adaptation directed by, of all people, Clint Eastwood, though that didn't have much traction. So, there is a chance you have already seen the show somewhere along the line. Don't let that stop you from seeing it again, in a production that creates the feeling we are sitting in nightclubs and corner bars across from the guys as they work out their differences and navigate their collective futures on their way to becoming a musical phenomenon, and there to hear each song break out freshly minted. If you have never seen the show before, you are in luck to have Chanhassen's production be your introduction to it. Jersey Boys ends with a jubilant rendition of "Who Loves You," and the answer is: everyone in the house at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre.
Jersey Boys runs through February 24, 2024, at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, 501 West 78th Street, Chanhassen MN. Tickets for dinner/lunch and show: $75 - $105. Show-only tickets, if available, at the box office ten days before performance date: $55 - $85. Check the website for senior (age 55+) and student (ages 5-17) discounts. For tickets and information, please call 952-934-1525, toll-free 1-800-362-3515, or visit www.chanhassendt.com.
Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; Music: Bob Gaudio; Lyrics: Bob Crew; Director: Michael Brindisi; Choreographer: Tamara Kangas Erickson; Music Director: Andy Kust; Set Design: Nayna Ramey; Costume Design: Rich Hamson; Lighting Design: Sue Ellen Berger; Sound Design: Russ Haynes; Hair Design: Amanda Levens; Properties Director: Laura Wilhelm; Intimacy Director: Elizabeth DeSotelle; Technical Director: Logan Jambik; Production Stage Manager: Thomas Schumacher; Assistant Stage Manager: John Trow.
Cast: Alan Back (Nick DeVito/ensemble), Tommy Benson (ensemble), Rush Benson (French Rap Star/ensemble), Cody Carlson (ensemble), David Darrow (Tommy DeVito), Will Dusek (Frankie Valli), Michael Gruber (Gyp DiCarlo/ensemble), Matthew Hall (ensemble), Jon Andrew Hegge (Norm Waxman /ensemble), Shad Hanley (Nick Massi), Andrew Hey (ensemble), Tyson Insixiengmai ("Short Shorts" singer/ensemble), Mark King (Bob Crewe/and others), Ann Michels (Frankie's Mother/ensemble), Andrea Mislan (Mary Delgado/ensemble), Adam Moen (ensemble), Daysha Ramsey (ensemble), Laura Rudolph (Lorraine/ensemble), Dylan Rugh (Detective/ensemble), Emily Scinto (ensemble), Maureen Sherman-Mendez (Francine/ensemble), Sam Stoll (Bob Gaudio), JoeNathan Thomas (ensemble), John Trow (ensemble), Tony Vierling (ensemble), Lisa Vogel (ensemble), John-Michael Zuerlein (ensemble).