Jersey Boys (Updated Review)

Review by Randy Hardwickjerseyboyslogo

January 7, 2009

More than a Juke Box Musical

Now in its second year at the Bank of America Theatre on Monroe Street, Jersey Boys keeps getting raves from the packed houses that come to see each performance – and with good reason. Audiences come for a bit of nostalgia via the 30+ musical numbers in the show. These numbers include at times perfect recreations of 19 hits written by Bob Gaudio and performed by Frankie Valli with the various singers who backed him over his career. That alone would justify the buzz at the box office, but the thing that lifts Jersey Boys way above most shows from the juke box musical genre is its engagingly narrated story. Even for those who were never fans of The Four Seasons – and that includes this reviewer – this is a show that is well worth seeing.

The story of the rise of four working class boys from New Jersey to become pop music icons is, of course, not a single story, but four separate stories. What I liked most about Jersey Boys is that it captures the individuals involved very well. Naturally, the story of the group moves along in a linear fashion as the guys deliver the hits – that’s what makes it a juke box musical. There is also a great selection of lesser known numbers and the plot is narrated by each of the four guys in his turn. In the process of hearing from each of the Jersey Boys the show gets beyond fawning praise for Valli’s four-octave falsetto to a sensitive portrayal of their individual lives and their complex interactions. It may not be perfect as drama, but it is more than enough to keep one interested and let’s face it, the tunes are catchy.

Now, just as when it all went down, the best numbers are those from the original Four Seasons: Frankie Valli (Cory Grant), Tommy DeVito (Bryan McElroy), Nick Massi (Michael Ingersoll), and Bob Gaudio (Drew Gehling). In the best numbers –“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Dawn” the quartet sounds virtually identical to the original group. They even capture subtle changes in the sound as the group matures and their distinctive harmony becomes their trademark. This ability to capture the vocal changes over time is brilliantly executed by all, but cast newcomer Grant’s portrayal of Valli is absolutely extraordinary. He sounds just like the famous singer at all stages of his career and his voice is so secure and stable across the incredible range that it, frankly, thrills. You will leave the theatre humming a tune for sure.

For me individually that is the worst part of the evening. I mean “Walk Like a Man?” What the devil is that and why is it stuck in my head? I still think the lyrics run from corny to sentimental, but thanks to good story telling in Jersey Boys I now understand that it is the early harmonic arrangements of the least known of the foursome, Nick Massi, that catches my ear. I absolutely loved this show and those who prize the music more than I are bound to love it even more. The Chicago cast is energetic and seems poised to be around for a while, but in the present economic climate one never knows. This is a show you do not want to miss, so don’t wait.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Randy Hardwick

Produced by Broadway In Chicago, At the Bank of America Theatre,18 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL, Call 312-902-1400, tickets $30 – $110, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm,Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, Open Run

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