Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Featuring dozens of songs, including the group's five biggest hits, "Sherry," "Rag Doll," "Walk Like A Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," Jersey Boys follows four guys who came from blue collar families in New Jersey and became one of the most successful bands of the 1960s. Full of many dramatic and comedic moments, it is a story of trust and loyalty as these four men found a way to take the combination of lead singer Frankie Valli's unique falsetto/tenor voice and the songwriting abilities of Bob Gaudio to overcome their many obstacles that included prison time, mob ties, family struggles, and gambling debts to sell over 175 million records and become one of the most successful pop acts of the 20th century.
Bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice came up with a creative way to frame the story of the creation of the band by separating the show into four segments, modeled on the four seasons of the year, and having each of the four original members, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, narrate a segment. It works beautifully to not only give each of the men a chance to serve as the narrator of the show while tying into the actual name of the band with the use of the seasons, but it also shows, just like the changing of the seasons, the vast changes the band went through over the years.
The cast for this tour all provide successful portrayals of the four band members, with an incredibly hard-working ensemble who also embody dozens of different supporting characters with chameleon-like ease. Jonny Wexler, Tommaso Antico, Corey Greenan, and Chris Stevens as Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Nick Massi, respectively, don't just mimic the quartet but beautifully show the changes each of these men encounters over the many years the show portrays. In doing so they honor each member of the band while also becoming, before our eyes, a winning singing foursome themselves.
Wexler is great in showing, at first, the nervousness the teenage Valli has in the ways of life, and then we witness him change and grow into the self-assured leader of the group. His singing abilities hit the many high notes that Valli is known for as well as the rich depth of his voice. As the antagonist of the piece, Greenan evokes the smarmy, cocky, egotistic nature of DeVito with a grounded sense of reality to display a man who believed he was only doing exactly what was necessary in order to make the band succeed, even if that involved occasionally breaking the law or the bonds of friendship. As Gaudio, the guy who wrote just about every hit song the group recorded, Antico does well in portraying the charming and slightly gawky outsider of the group who takes matters into his own hands to protect his, and Frankie's, best interests. Stevens, though quiet throughout much of the show, gets some good laughs as Massi. All four create soaring harmonies on the dozens of hit songs in the show. Also, Wade Dooley hits just the right notes as the group's flamboyant and very wise manager Bob Crewe, while Michelle Rombola provides the right balance of common sense and roughness as Frankie's first wife, Mary.
The direction and creative elements are almost exact copies of the Broadway and original touring production. Des McAnuff's staging provides a seamless, cinematic flow, moving from one scene to another with just the use of small set pieces that the ensemble quickly moves on and off Klara Zieglerova's simple but effective set, and a large video screen overhead where Michael Clark's projections help to quickly establish the location of each scene. Jess Goldstein's nonstop parade of costumes are both period and character perfect. Howell Binkley's Tony winning lighting and Steve Canyon Kennedy's sound design deliver stunning visual effects and crisp and clear vocals throughout. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo uses the signature in-sync movements that so many bands of the period were famous for, but also uses steps that continually change and grow, just like the four members of the band.
Jersey Boys is a rich, entertaining, and truly joyous journey into the lives of these four men who created a group and music that resonated with the entire country as well as the behind the scenes drama that ultimately broke the quartet apart. The current national tour features a gifted cast who effectively evoke the foursome with crisp creative elements and smart direction that are modeled on the original Broadway production. It is a show filled with the rich and intriguing story of the struggles these men endured to make music that is still well-known today, and the combination of the true story with so many hit songs is what makes Jersey Boys incredibly entertaining.
Jersey Boys, through January 28th, 2018, at the Orpheum Theatre located, 203 W Adams Street, Phoenix AZ. Information on this show and upcoming Broadway at the Orpheum shows can be found at www.theaterleague.com/phoenix/. Additional tour dates for Jersey Boys can be found at www.jerseyboysinfo.com/tour/.
Directed by Des McAnuff