Jersey Boys | 05.11.11 – 05.29.11

When the music is playing, the lights are flashing, and the 150 speakers lining the Fox are blaring, who cares what these guys were really like?

 

 

So much depends on Tommy DeVito. To me, the most interesting part of Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is that its creative team manages to make audiences love four guys who are in no way nice people. DeVito (Matt Bailey) is the worst of them—his compulsive gambling and tax evasion gymnastics practically brought the whole group down, but he’s unrepentant. He narrates the beginning of the show and some of the rest, as well. It is spring, the season of beginnings. Bailey is all swagger and attitude and we like him way more than we should.

DeVito, his brother Nick (Buck Hujabre), and his buddy Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) have tried to break into the music biz under various names and with a lot of other musicians before discovering teenaged Frankie Valli, neé Castelluccio. The kid is only 16, but his pipes are otherworldly and Joseph Leo Bwarie sings the hell out of the part. (Alternate Frankie John Michael Dias plays the lead singer in three shows a week.) The final piece of the puzzle is added when hanger-on Joey (actor Joe Pesci in real life, played by Ryan Strand at the May 16 performance) finds Bob Gaudio (Quinn VanAntwerp) who had a big hit with “Short, Shorts” when he was only 15. DeVito, who later takes credit for discovering Gaudio, originally objected to his inclusion in the group, but Frankie went to the wall for Bob, saying he’d leave if Gaudio wasn’t hired.

Gaudio joined forces with producer Bob Crewe (Jonathan Hadley) who wrote the lyrics for early hits “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” and continued working with Gaudio both for the boys and later for other groups. Still, without radio play, the humorously fey Crewe could only get them jobs as backup singers. Finally Crewe told them they needed a real identity and image, and The Four Seasons (named for a bowling alley they frequented in Jersey) were born. And though success didn’t come overnight, when it came, it was huge. They were even able to co-exist with The Beatles because their core audiences were different. The college kids and intellectuals dug the Fab Four, while the working class youth, the real “Jersey boys (and girls)” no matter where they were from, formed the fan base for The Four Seasons. Of course, many kids and adults enjoyed both.

There’s a lot more to the story than the brief summary here; some of it in the show, some not. Nick DeVito was out of the group because was doing time, and then Tommy and Nick Massi ended up in jail for six-month stretches, which caused disruption. Tommy tells us at the outset that when you’re from Jersey, there are only three ways to “make it”: join the army, mob up, or become a star. The only road the boys didn’t take was to enlist. There was plenty of mob involvement—especially on DeVito’s part, but nobody was above taking out some “insurance.” One of the funniest scenes in Act I comes when Tommy and a friend have a quarrel with Frankie in the back seat of the car, then Tommy pretends to shoot the other guy. Frankie runs for his life, and the two pranksters get a good laugh, as does the audience.

A particular patron of the group, Gyp DeCarlo, is a sucker for “My Mother’s Eyes,” which Frankie sings for Gyp when “the kid” needs help. On one occasion, he says he’s going to sing it to get money for Tommy, who is in trouble with a loan shark, but he reneges and Gyp stalks out, leaving Tommy high and dry—that time, anyway. When it came down to it, Frankie agreed to pay off all the debts incurred by the group (read Tommy) to the tune of about $1 million. But even Frankie was no better than he had to be. He cheated on his first wife, Mary Delgado, and virtually ignored her and their three daughters. He has to pay the piper for that later. Bob talked him into a side deal in which he and Frankie would share any profits that didn’t involve the whole group, and it was for life based on a “Jersey contract,” a handshake. Forty years later, that contract is still in effect.

But when the music is playing, the lights are flashing, and the 150 speakers lining the Fox are blaring, who cares what these guys were really like? If you’re old you remember these songs as favorites from your youth. If you don’t remember them firsthand, you still know them because they are deeply woven into the fabric of American popular culture. And they are still a whole bunch of fun. My only complaint with regards to the concert parts is when Frankie (now part of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, because the others are gone for various reasons) sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” It’s the show’s 11 o’clock number, the audience is applauding even before it starts and raises the roof when it’s over, but it’s not a song I like at all. Obviously, I’m in the minority.

The band’s break-up came when DeVito was exiled to Las Vegas until his debts were paid off (not exactly hard time). Massi just said one day in 1965 that he was quitting (he tells us later he didn’t even know he was going to say it but when he did, he knew it was right). And Gaudio, who’d never liked performing much anyway, wanted to concentrate on songwriting and production. Frankie, however, was in love with the music and kept at it. He is now 77 years old, and he is still going on, as is his story. Right now, around the world, 21 actors are playing Frankie Valli, and according to Judith Newmark in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the veteran performer finds this fact quite amusing. The show won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical and its list of other prestigious awards and nominations is impressive.

The four seasons organize the story of The Four Seasons into segments narrating the group’s lives, together and separately. Each member gets a chance to tell his own version of the story, and all the actors are up to the challenge of both speaking and singing. The set is a marvel of projections, catwalks, lights, and motion. The show is both a visual and aural treat. And if you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have, you know you want to go back. | Andrea Braun

Jersey Boys’ music is by Bob Gaudio with lyrics by Bob Crewe and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Its debut was at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA, under the direction of Des McAnuff, who is still credited in that role. Choreography is by Sergio Trujillo. The show will be at the Fox Theatre from May 11 through May 29. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com.

 

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