By Gary Murray
Starring Brandon Andrus, Colby Foytik, Jason Kappus and Brad Weinstock
Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio
Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Jersey Boys is a jukebox musical based on the music of the Four Seasons. For those who do not know classic group, the Four Seasons are a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member and one of the biggest selling bands of all time. Starting in the 1960’s, the band racked up a series of hit singles that rivaled the Beatles. The four working-class guys used tight harmonies and catchy hooks to be a counter to both the British Invasion and the Motown Sound. Led by the high pitched Frankie Valli (Brad Weinstock), the musical takes the band from its humble beginnings to mega-stardom.
The musical is laid out in four seasons with each member taking over part of the narration. We start in the Spring with a French cover of “Oh, What a Night” one of the later hits from the band. The tune was a monster re-make in 2000 that shows that the song still has staying power. Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytik) starts out our tale by taking the audience back to the beginning. We see Tommy struggling to build a group as a way to get out of his New Jersey circumstance.
The guys are borderline criminals and spend time in jail. Tommy knows that he can make the group work because of Frankie Valli. He sees the star potential in the young man and treats him like a kid brother. Tommy keeps pushing Frankie to keep practicing on his high vocals. They have to deal with mob bosses and other events to struggle to find both a sound and a way to break. Then a young Joe Pesci introduces the guys to Bob Gaudio.
Summer has Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus) take over the narration. We soon find out that he is the true musical genius of the group, the writer of the songs. He was a one-hit wonder with the novelty song “Short Shorts”. When he hears Frankie Valli, Bob knows that he wants to work with the singer and craft songs for him. It is at that point that the band gels. The true meat of the musical happens with “Sherry”. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”. The choreography used on stage decades ago that is recreated. We get the genesis of “Oh, What a Night” as a real event that happens on tour. It is a cleaver little bit of acting out a song.
The idea of being on broadcast TV is achieved much the same way it was done in Memphis, with the giant backdrop screen suggesting early television. The audience also sees how the endless touring takes a toll on the personal life of Frankie Valli. He struggles to be a father and husband while dealing with the temptations of the road. Family suffers for his art.
Act Two starts with Fall and the deep voiced Nick Massi (Brandon Andrus) talking about the downfall of the group and the break-up of the original band. The guys find that Tommy has been gambling and is serious debt to the mob. In the most emotional scene of the work, the guys have to confront exactly what the dynamics of the band will become. Bob and Frankie make a deal that cuts out Tommy. The band then becomes Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
It becomes obvious to Nick that he just wants out. He was never a fan of touring and just desires to go home. Our quartet becomes a duo. Bob wants to get off the road and become an engineer of the sound, much like Brian Wilson did for the Beach Boys. Tragedy after tragedy becomes the norm for the group.
Finally we get to see Frankie Valli and Winter. The band is now just Frankie Valli, the lone survivor, with different members being the Four Seasons. The true show-stopper of the work is the great song “Can’t Take my Eyes off of You.” The play ends with the original four members becoming inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Of the four leads I found that Jason Kappus gave the warmest performance. He gives the reading a true feel, not being a caricature but playing a real person. It is a warm reading that endears the audience to his plight and his musical muse.
Brad Weinstock has the voice of Frankie Valli down, if not the timbre. He looks the part but misses the powerhouse backing of the real Frankie Valli. It becomes much more of an interpretation of the legend than playing the part.
There are rumors that Jersey Boys is being made into a major motion picture. It is far past due that these performers are honored with such an accolade. The problem with this version of the work is that it will get an R rating. These guys use some very rough language in between songs and it is not for those easily offended.
In a word—Jersey Boys is joyous experience and the best show that has appeared at the Winspear Opera House. It has a bunch of great tunes that hang onto the ear hours after leaving the venue and a story that is as much about family as it is about friendship. This is a ‘can-not miss; experience.