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REVIEW: Moving Jersey Boys Opens (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)

The cast of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ new production of Jersey Boys, now playing in Chanhassen, MN. Photo by Dan Norman.

There is not a lot new to pen about Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical telling the story of The Four Seasons, a rock and roll and doo-wop band that rolled out of New Jersey in 1960. With more than 100 million records sold and a 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hal of Fame – and innumerable hits along the way – the musical source material practically sells itself. That there were conflicts – internal, external, existential – along the way, practically goes without saying. It’s a fascinating tale, one told in many Broadway tours over the past decade, as well as a 2014 film directed and produced by Clint Eastwood.

Much more interesting is what Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ new production of Jersey Boys brings to the table. The centerpiece of this production directed by Michael Brindisi is something not found in any recent tour or the film: sympathy and empathy for the villain. At the heart of CDT’s Jersey Boys is David Darrow’s engrossing performance as the deeply flawed Tommy DeVito, the founder and business manager of (and performer in) what becomes The Four Seasons. Other productions of this musical often condense DeVito into a flat character; watching Darrow’s performance, you feel deeply that DeVito believes that he can pull it off, and that the many slights and infractions will help things work out for the best. These acting and directing choices, together, add up to a riveting musical and emotional journey over the course of the evening, and give the band’s climatic reunion real heft.

Lorraine (Laura Rudolph) and Frankie Valli (Will Dusek) share an intimate moment. Photo by Dan Norman.

Joining Darrow is a talented ensemble of other leading players: Will Dusek as the angel-voiced Frankie Valli, making his CDT debut; Sam Stoll as genius songwriter Bob Gaudio; and Shad Hanley as straightman Nick Massi. As a vocal quartet, their performances are exceptional, and always pleasant to listen to – and, with the overflowing abundance of hit songs in the score, the shifting sounds never gets old. Notable performances are also given by Andrea Mislan (as Mary Delgado) and Laura Rudolph (as Lorraine).

Casting a biographical jukebox musical generally follows one of two directions: casting performers who more or less exactly capture the sound of the artists involved, or leaving room for more individual shading and expression. In his casting, Brindisi has struck a fine balance – the musical sound is always strongly evocative of the original recordings, while still allowing for individual shading in particular numbers. It helps keep the sound fresh to the ear, especially if you have seen Jersey Boys before. The moving, emotionally laden performance of “My Eyes Adored You” (notably featuring Dusek and Mislan) and pumping “C’mon Marianne” are particular highlights.

…and it all comes crashing down. Shad Hanley (as Nick Massi), Will Dusek (as Frankie Valli), Sam Stoll (as Bob Gaudio), David Darrow (as Tommy DeVito), Michael Gruber (as Gyp DeCarlo), and Jon Andrew Hegge (as Norm Waxman) in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ new production of Jersey Boys. Photo by Dan Norman.

Dining Recommendations

Vegan: the Vegan Impossi-Loaf, a savory and filling mix of flavors including wild rice, mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and Impossible™ meat substitute.

Omnivore: the classic Famous Chicken Chanhassen with hollandaise sauce.

Cocktail: the Raspberry Paloma (21 Seeds Grapefruit Hibiscus Tequila, raspberry purée, lime juice, and grapefruit juice). Pleasantly sweet, with a delightful mix of flavors that dance on the tongue with each sip.

Jersey Boys runs through February 24, 2024 at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Basil Considine