Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Jersey Boys

The story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasonsjerseyboyslogo2

Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice

Music by Bob Gaudio

Lyrics by Bob Crewe

Directed by Des McAnuff

Slick production and strong book and 33 hit songs propel Jersey Boys

Not since Mama Mia has a jukebox musical exploded like Jersey Boys. With seat down productions on Broadway (2006 Tony Award for Best Musical), LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Nashville, Miami, Toronto and now Chicago add London, Dublin and Edinburgh and Jersey Boys is truly a phenomenon. They have brought the jukebox musical back. Chicago has already extended the show twice as each block of tickets sell out in hours. I’m not sure why?

Jersey Boys is well produced, with stellar lighting and a large cast. It sings well in the 1960’s street corner pop/rock style. Audiences love this show as evidenced by several standing ovations during the show. That rarely happens. Jersey Boys is a critic-proof show. Nothing will stop this jukesical since word-of-mouth gives this show legs. Another Wicked? Probably.

I will attempt to critique Jersey Boys more an exploration as to why this pleasant, tuneful, slick show has such strong emotional appear that spans generations despite the fact that Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ success lasted mainly from 1961 through 1965. In that time only the Beach Boys came close to their record sales (170 million records). Jersey Boys blends the group’s hits with a brutally truthful book (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice).

Jersey Boys
Jersey Boys

Jersey boys is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons—Bob Guadio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. These guys are blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks. DeVito is a small-time Jersey hood and mafia want-to-be who narrates the early story of the rise of the pop foursome. Jeremy Kushnier plays DeVito with raging intensity. We see that Nick Massi (Michael Ingersoll) is the passive, go-with-program guy and friend to Tommy Devito.. DeVito’s control over the group is challenged when songwriter/arranger Bob Guadio (Drew Gehling) arrives in the group.

The story of the rise of the group is told from each member’s point of view with their hits sprinkled throughout. Jersey Boys has a surprisingly strong book that realistically, in raw street language (too much use of the “F” word), depicts the crudeness of these working class Italian Americans. I’m sure some Italian Americans may resent the stereotyping here as some do to HBO’s Sopranos. The guys come off as male chauvinist pigs and the many of the women in this story appear as dumb bimbos. Of course that happened. We see Bob Gaudio’s talents as a song writer as he launches the group with his 1962 smash hit “Sherry.”

We experience how success can destroy a group, putting strains on their families as the grind of travel and the cult of celebrity takes its tool. DeVito’s mismanagement of the finances and his gambling leads to a near financial ruin for the group. Frankie Valli (played with an unassuming confidence by Jerrod Spector) decides his Jersey-style loyalty demands that the group pay DeVito’s million dollar debt. DeVito is banished from the group to Vegas. Bob Guadio and Frankie Valli reorganize the group as Nick Massi also departs. Guadio pens several mega hits: “My Eyes Adore You,” “Walk Like a Man,” “ Con’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Working My Way Back to You.” These audience favorites drew cheers.

I must say that in 1962 I was starting Loyola University Chicago and us “intellectuals” wouldn’t dare listen to greaser, blue-color groups like Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. We listen to jazz, show tunes, Peter, Paul & Mary, Sinatra, Simon & Garfunkel and The Kingston Trio. We thought ourselves quite hip. It took me years to appreciate street corner pop harmonies from the Jersey Boys. Their cross generational appeal is partly due to TV shows like The Sopranos. I believe it’s the music and the rags to riches American style story of average guys making it big that resonates with audiences. These Jersey Boys could be us. To me, it’s the rich harmonies and Valli’s unique falsetto voice on Guadio’s excellent songs that gives Jersey Boys its meat. The fine production values helps also.

The show is a nostalgic catalog show with a truthful story. It isn’t fine art but it is thoroughly energetic, fast-paced and entertaining. The snob in me pushes to fight shows like this. That is my problem. You’ll enjoy this honest look at the living out the American dream.


Tom Williams

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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