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REVIEW: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons Are Back in Jersey Boys (Orpheum/HTT)

Chris Stevens, Corey Greenan, Jonny Wexler, and Tommaso Antico as Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons in the national tour of Jersey Boys. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The excitement of the Broadway touring company playing this week at the Orpheum Theatre demonstrates why Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons is one of the more accomplished jukebox musicals from Broadway.  The musical ran on Broadway from 2005 to 2017 winning four Tonys in 2006 including Best Musical.  Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the musical’s book.  The numerous hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, composed by original bank member Bob Gaudio with lyrics by Bob Crewe, infuse the show with an upbeat zest.  Des McAnuff’s direction keeps this rock biopic moving on the sheer energy of the music and the talented cast.

“My Eyes Adored You”. Chris Stevens, Jonny Wexler, Tommaso Antico, and Corey Greenan. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I was unimpressed with the 2014 movie based on the musical, but was delighted to finally see that the stage musical is genuinely entertaining. The Four Seasons started as a group in the early 1960s, prior to the arrival of the British Invasion of rock groups.  The group proved to have staying power and their songs remained on the music charts through the mid-1970s.  The show portrays their life on the road, their marital problems, personal tragedies, and financial ruin.  Four Seasons songs are basically a mix between bubblegum rock and pop music with lush orchestration.  Growing up, I never knew much about The Four Seasons, but anyone who listed to AM radio could not escape the constant radioplay of their music.

One of the reasons this rock biopic works so well is that, unlike many jukebox musicals where the songs are often so tangential to the action that it temporarily stops the production, this music is so directly connected to the characters that it both blends in and drives the story line forward. Many catchy but inconsequential tunes such as “Sherry”,  “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and “Rag Doll” permeate the musical, suffusing it with atmosphere and generating an overall positive momentum, even when the characters are in crisis.

Foreground: (l to r) Dianna Barger, Tristen Buettel and Michelle Rombola. Background: Guitars (l to r): Wade Dooley, Kevin Patrick Martin and Todd DuBail. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Did You Know…

…that Edina High School graduate Kit Treece is the male swing for the Jersey Boys national tour?

Swings (shorthand for “universal swing”) in Broadway musicals are actors who are prepared to step into multiple roles in case another actor is out of the show (e.g., sick, on vacation, etc.). Touring shows often have just two swings – a male swing and a female swing –who learn, between them, all of the parts in the show. It’s the understudy of understudy jobs, requiring great attention to detail, a fast memory, and being able to switch hats and costumes on a moment’s notice.

Treece studied at the Hartt School in Connecticut and has performed at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Goodspeed Opera House, Hartford Stage, Chicago’s North Shore Music Theatre, the Engeman Theatre in New York, and at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. He has also performed in the national tours for A Chorus Line and Hairspray.

The two-act play is basically divided into four parts where each of the Four Seasons gets a chance to narrate the story from his own perspective. It starts with Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan), the band’s founder) who tells us how he put the group together. Greenan (as Tommy) succeeds is playing a likeable thug whose lifestyle and money management skills forced the group into economic ruin. Then the story shifts to Bob Gaudio (Tommaso Antico), whose music set the group on fire with his seemingly endless output of hit songs.  Antico plays with great charm the often-calculating but very talented composer Gaudio who sees his talent and Valli’s voice as the mainstay of the group.  When it shifts to Nick Massi (Chris Stevens), Stevens does a credible job of suddenly stepping into the spotlight from his previously minimal role as the fourth band member.  It was almost a shock to hear him speak in whole sentences as he fills in the audience on the band’s down side.  The last narration is by Frankie Valli (Ben Bogen), the last man standing. Bogen’s performance captures Frankie Valli’s iconic voice.

Michelle Rombola (Mary) and Jonny Wexler (Frankie) in Jersey Boys. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova provides a minimal set consisting largely of a modified catwalk with a projection screen on the top level.  Despite this barebones design, it functions well in portraying the different locations and providing a performing space to showcase the band’s songs.  Much of the music seemed piped in, especially with the lush sounds on the classic song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” but there are also some talented stage musicians on stage backing up the leads who are singing their hearts out.

Despite some of the band’s heartaches, this musical stays on its optimistic track.  It makes for a fun and breezy evening even and it is easy to see why it enjoyed such a long Broadway run.

Jersey Boys plays through April 29 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.

Bev Wolfe