Tonight, I went to see the touring production of the hit Tony Award winning musical Jersey Boys. And while it is true that on a Friday night especially, I stood out as being perhaps one of the youngest audience members, I certainly enjoyed myself nevertheless.
Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and what a story it is. It is narrated in parts by each original member of The Four Seasons: Tommy DeVito (played by Matt Bailey,) Bob Gaudio (Ryan Jesse,) Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia,) and Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie.) They all do an excellent job not only at telling the story, but also in embracing their characters without any Broadway cheesiness. The show is sober but exciting and finds a good balance between performing as a musical and performing a concert-like revue of the plethora of Four Seasons hits.
The show begins in France in 2000, performing a French version of “Oh, What A Night” that made it to the top of the charts twenty-five years after its original followed a similar path. We then go back to the early 1960s where it all began. We see a young Frankie Valli brilliantly performed by Joseph Leo Bwarie. It’s unbelievable how seamlessly Bwarie portrays Valli’s growth. He is simply made for the part: his voice, his look, his attitude. But in truth, it is one of the most successful ensemble shows I have seen yet. Yes, in reality, Frankie Valli becomes the star of the band, but in this show, Valli, DeVito, Gaudio and Massi share the glory and the talent. Or should I say Bwarie, Bailey, Jesse and Gouveia… It’s almost hard to tell characters from actors apart at this point.
So back to the story. We start in the early 60s and follow the path of The Four Lovers turned Four Seasons as they struggle through life in their hometown in Jersey, as they complete their quartet with Bob Gaudio and as they write and perform their way to multiple hits across the globe. The show, directed brilliantly by Des McAnuff, showcases these big hits, most of which, if you’re between the ages of 18-34, you’ve surely heard of but never realized they were written by The Four Seasons. “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Oh, What A Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” are just a few names among the bunch. Oh and do you remember that amazing song “Beggin’” that came out last year by Madcon? Yes well I discovered tonight that it was an original Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit first.
But don’t worry, you’re not the only one having the “Oh that was them!?” epiphanies. Some cast members have them too, as I found out when I interviewed two of the three “Jersey Girls” of the show, Sarah Darling and Kara Tremel. You can check that out here. Speaking of the “Jersey Girls” trio, if I hadn’t known before that they played all the female parts of the show, I never would have guessed. They do a superb job at slipping into each character, giving each one flair, individuality and personality.
But again, back to the point (it is so easy to digress… there is just so much to say about this show!) Anyone under 34 years old has probably heard the songs somewhere somehow and will be delighted to finally know where they came from. And who doesn’t like epiphanies, I mean really? For everyone over 50, the show is a legitimate revival of their youth. We even got some sing-along’s tonight… And everyone in between… well I guess you’re just in between both ends and will enjoy it twice more.
A few other highlights of the show: the costumes and the set. While the choreography is perhaps a little repetitive at times (though I never get bored of the knee-in-knee-out motion…) the costumes certainly make up for it. Colors, sparkles and wigs (for the girls!) abound and help tremendously in bringing us all back to the 60s. And yes, the guys wear sparkles too.
The set appears simple but hides many treasures. Set changes are flawless and often contain stunning backgrounds. The two staircases and the platforms that remain on stage at all times are used effectively, contributing to both humor and emotion in the show. Whether it is to show the endless incarcerations of various members or to contribute to moving departures and goodbyes, the set adds just the right touch.
My concluding words will be to not let yourself be discouraged by the fact that you may not know the songs, or that your “older” (don’t tell them I said that) parents are really into it and that makes it less cool. The show can be for you too if you give it a shot. The music is catchy, you’ll recognize more than you know, and it’s a great opportunity to see what a Broadway show looks like at its best: great acting, great music, and great atmosphere.
Jersey Boys is playing at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset Street, until June 6th. You can get tickets by visiting the PPAC website, or by calling 401-421-ARTS.
And don’t forget to check out the Jersey Girls podcast!