Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Maybe it's just a 1960s and '70s update of Guys and Dolls, in a time when modern romantic yarns must always be frayed. The characters land just this side of satire in the fact-based book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. But, on the other hand, they're never forced into some falsely admirable arc of introspection and change, either. There's an old saying that, as we ourselves get old, we don't really changewe only become more and more like ourselves. And that's the case with these four young men in their own Runyonesque world over about four decades. Because of the way this jukebox musical is written, the greatest suspense comes not from love or growth or fate, but from a very demographically specific, recurring game of "Name That Tune" that's going on out in the house.
The live band (there's a live band at Stages!) plays teasing vamps under the narration before a half-dozen of the biggest songs begin. And each time, it drove me crazy trying to guess what smash-hit record would be "covered" next. And then (being of the Eisenhower generation) I'd get a Pavlovian rush of endorphins each time the mystery was finally cleared up. The band is great, led by Jeremy Jacobs, and the torrid-but-clean-cut singing is almost always full-bodied and in tune with the idiom.
The men's dancing is generally "touch-step" but razor-sharp, thanks to choreographer Dana Lewis. Does a woman ever actually dance with a man here, other than a brief "twist"? I can't remember. It's "bros before hoes" in shows like this, and women are little more than off-the-rack plot devices. Likewise, there are a hundred actual set pieces being rushed on and off stage for two and a half hours, provided by James Wolk. All these objects (living or not) flow perfectly, thanks to stage manager Shawn Pryby and his assistant Sarah Luedloff.
Brent Michael DiRoma is lots of fun as Tommy, the Fonzie-esque organizer of the boy band who gets into trouble with loan sharks; and Jason Michael Evans is dour and hilarious as Nick, in an Odd Couple-type monologue about his domestic strife with Tommy in hotel after hotel. Nick's later confession about his own family life seems particularly stunning in Mr. Evans' hands. And Ryan Jesse is excellent as the musical genius Bob Gaudio, writing hit after hit. There's a gigantic range of financial figures here, from the decades before the widespread use of computers, but the group's aggregate record sales have been estimated at somewhere between 100 and 199 million copies.
Bob Crewe wrote the catchy lyrics for many of the Four Seasons' hits, and he's played with delicious sass by the always-impressive Edward Juvier. There are no scenes of collaboration between Gaudio and Crewe, which seems to violate a well-known musical trope. But those private moments of inspiration are almost never convincing anyway. Stages regulars Steve Isom and John Flack fill a rollicking two dozen roles between them, or so it seems. And Jenna Coker-Jones (real-life wife of this show's Frankie), Sarah Ellis, Donna Louden, and Dena DiGiacinto are stylish, funny and sharp as the women who are locked out of each of the men's lives again and again. Not unlike poor Diane Keaton at the end of The Godfather: Part II.
Jersey Boys runs through October 24, 2021, at the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Ave., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org.
The Cast (in order of appearance):
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association