Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Jersey Boys"

Jersey Boys
Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (Book)
Bob Gaudio (Music); Bob Crewe (Lyrics)

Keith Hines, Matthew Dailey, Aaron De Jesus & Drew Seeley
What is it about the 2005, multi-Tony-award-winning Jersey Boys in its third U.S. tour and third visit to San Francisco that still results in a standing ovation, sold-out Opening Night and a beginning of yet another extended four-week run?  Is it the set of over-thirty songs (Bob Gaudio, music, and Bob Crewe, lyrics) that, as one actor (Matthew Dailey) in a pre-show Q&A told this reviewer, “These songs are the stories of people’s lives, that bring back hosts of memories of where they were, when, and with whom”?  Is it the harmonies of voices that blend in magical ways, or the incredible personal vocal ranges and sterling singing qualities that this and all previous casts have consistently displayed?  Is it a book (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) that tells a compelling, heretofore-unknown story of the ups and downs of a famous jukebox group?  Or is it the precise, totally synchronized movements of the four singers’ bodies where hips and heads, arms and legs, single fingers and total torsos all mirror each other with split-second speed (thanks to choreographer Sergio Turjillo)?  For this return visit to SHN Orpheum Theatre where the first national tour began in 2006 breaking all box office records, the answers are all resounding yes’s to these and many more aspects of yet another winning production of Jersey Boys.

The story of this group that, as the program notes, “sold over 175 million records worldwide, all before any of the members turned 30,” is told in four sections matching the four seasons of the year.  Each member of the quartet narrates one part of the time-sequenced story, putting his particular spin on a history that is full of false starts, sky-rocketing successes, personal tragedies, and personal loyalties thicker than blood as well as lies and betrayals that lead to break-ups, personally and professionally.  And the narrations are of course frequently punctuated by the sounds of songs as old friends once heard on 45s and still heard decades later on any streaming service to our phones. 

Matthew Dailey begins the story with the “Spring” section as the dimpled, cocky, heavy-Jersey-accented Tommy DeVito, self-proclaimed founder and leader of the group (and also occasional visitor to what he calls the “Broadway Correctional Institute” – or prison).  Taking us through his search for just the right foursome as the earlier versions of trios and quartets play small clubs and street corners (“Silhouettes” and “You’re the Apple of My Eye”), Matthew Dailey rouses the audience with his gorgeous crooning with full company backup in “Earth Angel.”

The All-American-looking, clean-cut Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley), who at 15 had already had a #1 hit, “Short Shorts,” picks up the story of “Summer” as he becomes the fourth piece of the pie.  His joining and his talented song-writing leads to the first three big hits, delivered by the four leads in a rousing, toe-tapping sequence of melodies and harmonies that the audience can hardly hold back singing along:  “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.”  (The hits also coincide finally finding the right name, inspired by a neon “Four Seasons” sign on a bowling ally.)  Drew Seeley as Bob then brings crystal clarity and a radiant spirit as he leads the entire ensemble belting perfectly the ever-popular “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night).” 

Standing like a tall, lanky giant with a singing bass voice astoundingly rich and deep and a talking voice slow, measured, and usually soft-spoken, Keith Hines is Tommy’s long-time friend from the neighborhood and singing partner from the beginning, Nick Massi.  While providing the solid, ever-beautiful foundation for the quartet’s close harmonies, Mr. Hines is also exceptionally funny with Nick’s under-breath comments (always suggesting “Maybe I’ll form my own group” to everyone’s rolled-eyes dismal) and when he describes in non-characteristic frenzy ten years of wet towel torments while rooming with Tommy on the road.

And with “Winter” comes the side of the story we have been most wanting to hear, that of the real star of the Four Seasons who eventually becomes the name in front of it all, Frankie Valli.  Aaron de Jesus steps into the role that won John Lloyd Young a Best Actor in a Musical Tony; and he carries on the tradition superbly as the diminutive, angel-voiced Frankie, taking his several-octave range into falsetto heavens with total ease and confidence.  He also solos in numbers that become further proof of the original Valli’s unique talents that have struck chords deep within listeners around the globe for generations (e.g., “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Fallen Angel”).  Aaron de Jesus is totally convincing in not only his singing but in his ability to convey the deep hurts Valli causes and feels, the blind devotion to those who helped him (even when they harm him later on), and the extreme drive that he has to connect with his audiences with a message that can touch each one of them singularly and meaningfully.

Supporting this star-studded foursome is a cast of equally talented veterans of many Broadway, touring, and regional credits.  Among them, Lauren Tartaglia excels as Frankie’s first wife, the fiery in red hair and in disposition, Mary Delgado.  She joins Frankie and the Four Seasons for a heart-touching and closely harmonized “My Eyes Adored You.”  Barry Anderson is the bubbly, boyish Bob Crewe who brings as producer the newly formed Four Seasons into their real fame.  Thomas Fiscella is totally believable as the serious but sentimental mob boss, Gyp De Carlo, who loans questionable-sourced money that both keeps the group alive and eventually leads to disillusion among the original members. 

The two-leveled, erector-like set of Klara Zieglerova is enhanced by scenic pieces that magically and quickly appear and recede as needed.  Lighting by Howell Binkley is a real star in this production (as it was in the original Broadway production where a Tony was awarded) along with projections designed by Michael Clark that highlight nightclub marquees where the group is performing as well as Lichtenstein-style cartoons to illustrate songs and scenes.  Jess Goldstein contributes costumes that reflect the rather conservative donning of the Four Seasons as well as the sparkling dresses of the women on stage of the era.  All is held together with precision and seamless flow by Director Des McAnuff.

Third time around may sound like one too many times for some shows, but for the current touring version of Jersey Boys, this SHN Orpheum Theatre production is yet-again one not to be missed -- whether seeing for the first time or the second, third, or whatever time.

Rating: 5 E

Jersey Boys will continue its SHN Orpheum Theatre run through February 14, 2016 at 1192 Market Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at

Photo Credit:  Jeremy Daniel

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