Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jersey Boys

“Oh What a Night”—‘JERSEY BOYS’ at the State Theatre

There was a high-level buzz of excitement at the State Theatre before the opening curtain of ‘JERSEY BOYS.’ The audience was expecting something special. And, did they get it!!! At the end of the evening they were on their feet screaming for more and the elation spilled out onto the streets following the show. (In this instance, this was not an automatic Cleveland standing ovation given for anything from good to bad productions. This was a deserved standing O!)

Yes, as one of the show’s songs cries out, “Oh, What a Night.”

JERSEY BOYS is a story about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. It supposedly is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They supposedly wrote their own songs. They invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were thirty.

You’ll note in the last paragraph I said “it is supposedly the story” and they “supposedly wrote their own songs.” There is some controversy over how much the script’s writers, Marshal Brickman and Rick Elice, deviated from the real story. There is also some question abut whether Bob Gaudio really did write all of the songs. Be that as it may, there is no question over the entertainment value of the production. And, in the end, the audience really doesn’t care if the story is totally authentic. As one of the songs states, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” You won’t be able to take your eyes off the stage and keep your feet still as the beat goes on and on and on.
The show opened in November of 2005 in New York. It won four 2006 Tony Awards including Best Musical and continues to break box office records on Broadway.

This national tour includes Erik Bates as Tommy DeVito, the founder and sleazy member of the group. His wild way of living, his spending and gambling, caused the quartet problems and eventually was the cause of its breaking up. Bates is appropriately ego-centered in the role. He sings and moves well.

Miles Aubrey is Nick, Tommy’s older brother, who was basically along for the ride. Aubrey, as is the rest of the cast, fits well his part and sings effectively.

Andrew Rannells, who not only looks like the real Bob Gaudio, but has the same boyish charm, is excellent. Portraying the “intellect” of the group, Rannells wraps himself in the role and is completely believable.

The star of the evening is Joseph Leon Bwarie as Frankie Valli. Though there is conjecture that he is getting support via backstage singers for hitting the necessary falsetto high notes, again, who cares. It works. Be aware that Zachary Prince performs the Valli role at some performances. Having not seen him in the role, I have no way of advising whether his performance will meet the high level of Bwarie’s.

Everything about this production is professional. The sets, the orchestrations and the costumes all work.

A sign in the lobby of the State indicates, “Authentic, profane, Jersey vocabulary are special effects used in this production.” Yes, there is an “in-ya"-face Jersey attitude. On the night I saw the show it carried over into a shouting match in the audience which developed into a fist fight at the start of intermission. Supposedly some guy defied the theatre rules and the people around him by keeping his cell phone on, and, the rumor states, using it during the show. How Jersey! (BTW—because of the language used, the show is not recommended for anyone under 12.)

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I saw ‘JERSEY BOYS’ in Chicago. I loved it then, I loved it in this staging, which I think is a better production. Go, go, go see ‘JERSEY BOYS.’ You will have one hell of a time and be in a “Trance” as you “Walk Like a Man” [or Woman] out of the theatre, feeling like a “Big Man [or Woman] in Town.”