Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
An American success story on steroids
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
Back by popular demand and all but owning the Bank of America Theatre for at least the next nine weeks, the mega-jukebox musical Jersey Boys continues to stir up a perfect storm of industrial-strength nostalgia. Replete with doo-wop harmonies, pile-driving rock anthems and blue-collar verismo, the trademarks of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, this well-packaged blast from the past may soft-peddle the Mafia-ridden New Jersey that produced these pop geniuses and their goodfella godfathers. But it’s the performances, as much inspiration as imitation, that sell these terrific numbers. You can’t fool a happy crowd: Monroe Street will be full of them well into summer.
In “Spring,” a punk criminal named Tommy DeVito assembles a Garden State quartet that will finally become The Four Seasons (after trying out The Four Lovers, The Royal Teens, among other monikers). Never forgetting their blue collar roots (but overcoming their rap sheet reputations), these harmony crooners belted songs that could make you fall in love on the spot and never forget them thereafter. This fabulous four are sensible Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), wannabe gangsta and runaway spendthrift DeVito (John Gardiner), the soaring boy soprano that broke a million hearts (otherwise known as Frankie Valli, formerly Castelluccio– and now memorably Joseph Leo Bwarie), and the genius songwriter, Joe Pesci protege and self-effacing performer Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd).
With the help of a gay manager and a lot of street-corner moxie, the Platinum foursome carve out a permanent constellation in the rock and roll universe and seal the deal with songs you’ll love as much the last time you hear them as the first.
Chronicling their storied rise with the hits that stamped their era (“Earth Angel,” “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walking My Way Back To You, “Let’s Hang On To What We’ve Got”), their doings are illustrated by giant Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoons as blatantly rhapsodic as the songs. (We also sample one girl group, with the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back.”)
The friends’ loyalties get tested to the limit when DeVito’s debts trigger mob threats against the guy group, forcing Frankie and Bobby to raise $1 million to pay off Gyp DeCarlo (Joseph Siravo), enforcer extraordinaire. Frankie’s long-distance marriage to Mary Delgado founders on too many tours and the wrenching death of a daughter to drugs. In no time “Winter” ends The Four Seasons, but they stay true to their roots (well, Gaudio never liked New Jersey to start with).
Jersey Boys never shies from showing the price behind the chart busters (175 million records sold worldwide!) and the differences among the scarlet jackets. I wish it spent more time, as did “The Buddy Holly Story,” with showing us how they made the music. But when we hear Bwarie’s boyish, irrepressible and incandescent “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” we’re present at the creation. Everything old is new again and now-old men (with Massi gone altogether) are Jersey boys once and forever.
Jersey Boys continues through June 3rd at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, and a 2pm matinee on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $37-$97, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online at Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayinChicago.com. (Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, which includes one 15-minute intermission)
Preston Truman Boyd (Bob Gaudio); Joseph Leo Bwarie (Frankie Valli); John Gardiner (Tommy DeVito); Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi); Jonathan Hadley (Bob Crewe, others); Joseph Siravo (Gyp DeCarlo, others); Nick Cosgrove (Frankie Valli on); Lauren Decierdo (Lorraine, others); Frankie J. Galasso (Joey, others); Buck Hujabre, John Rochette (Norm Waxman, others); Denise Payne (Francine, others); Timothy Quinlan (Billy Dixon, others); Kara Tremel (Mary Delgado, others); Donald Webber, Jr. (Barry Belson, others); Kevin Worley (Hank Majewski, others); Brian Silverman (Thug, Guitar); Mark Verdino (Thug, Bass); Christopher DeAngelis, Mauricio Perez, Alyna Gallo, Kyli Rae, Adam Zelasko (swings)
behind the scenes
Des McAnuff (director); Sergio Trujillo (choreography); Klara Zieglerova (set design); Jess Goldstein (costumes); Howell Binkley(lighting); Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design); Michael Clark (projections); Charles LaPointe (wigs, hair design); Steve Orich (orchestrations); Ron Melrose (music direction, vocal arrangements, incidental music); Joseph J. Grano, Tara Kinsella, Kevin Kinsella, Rick Steiner, Lauren Mitchell (producers); Steve Rankin (fight director); Richard Hester (production supervisor); Larry Baker (production stage manager); Jay McLeod (stage manager); Paige Grant (asst. stage manager); John Miller (music coordinator); John Samorian (conductor); Kelly Devine (asst. choreographer); Stephen Gabis (dialect coach);