Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Jersey Boys"

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

The Cast of Jersey Boys
The 2005, multi-Tony-award-winning Jersey Boys just keeps packing in audiences everywhere it goes, with crowds jumping to their feet for standing ovations the second the last crooning has been crooned.  Many are like I, seeing Jersey Boys last night for the fourth time and still loving every minute of it – even after seeing the same touring company two years ago in San Francisco. 

Those in the starring roles have changed since that run, but the latest quartet brings the same harmonies of voices that blend in magical ways, as well as the incredible, personal vocal ranges and sterling singing qualities that all previous casts have consistently displayed.  These four also in no way disappoint in their precise, totally synchronized movements where hips and heads, arms and legs, single fingers and total torsos all mirror each other with split-second speed (still thanks to choreographer Sergio Turjillo).  The story of the ups and downs of this famous jukebox group called The Four Seasons (book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) continues to be compelling even on the second, third, or more hearings; and who does not want once again to hear the thirty-plus songs (Bob Gaudio, music, and Bob Crewe, lyrics) that sold over 175 million records before any of the original Seasons were thirty years old. 

All to say, the current touring Jersey Boys at Broadway San Jose is a hit in the continual making as this tour that began in 2016 seems to have the same longevity of life that the original Broadway show did for its fifteen-plus year history.

Chris Stevens, Corey Greenan, Jonny Wexler & Tommaso Antico
Jersey Boys is told in four sections, appropriately 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.  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 or virtual home assistants. 

Corey Greenan begins the story with the “Spring” section as the 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 Facility” – 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, Tommy also tells us how the initial group goes from being known as The Topics to The Varitones to The Four Lovers -- the latter quartet moving disastrously into comedy, emptying clubs with campy songs like “I Go Ape.”  While Tommy DeVito was usually not a featured soloist of the group, Corey Greenan as Tommy does rouse the audience with full company backup in “Earth Angel.”

The All-American-looking, clean-cut Bob Gaudio (Tommaso Antico), 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.  A cute, pushy – some might say ballsy – Jersey kid named Joey (Sean Burns) introduces Bob to a hesitant Tommy; this kid grows up to be Joe Pesci.

Bob Gaudio’s joining and his talented song-writing leads to the first three big hits of a group still in search of the right name, with the numbers 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 with the foursome finally finding the right name, inspired by a neon “Four Seasons” sign on a bowling ally.  Tommaso Antico as Bob shines with radiant spirit as he leads the entire ensemble in belting 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, Chris Stevens is Tommy’s long-time friend from the neighborhood and singing partner from the beginning, Nick Massi.  While providing the solid, ever-beautiful, lower foundation for the quartet’s close harmonies, Mr. Hines is also exceptionally funny when he describes in non-characteristic frenzy “my ten year sentence” of rooming on the road with Tommy who changed his underwear every three days, peed in the sink, and invariably found a way to leave all towels wet for Nick.

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.  Ben Bogan on the San Jose opening night stepped into the role normally played by Jonny Wexler.  Singing the iconic role that won John Lloyd Young a Best Actor in a Musical Tony, Ben Bogan 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”). 

The stand-by Ben Bogan is totally convincing in not only his singing but in his ability to convey the deep hurts that 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 on-and-Off-Broadway, touring, and regional credits.  Among them, Michelle Rombola is 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.” 

Wade Dooley is the bubbly, boyish Bob Crewe who unabashedly shows his own special swish and swagger as the producer who brings the newly formed Four Seasons into their real fame.  Todd DuBail 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. 

Not as successful is the one brief appearance of “The Angels,” a female trio singing “My Boyfriend’s Back” whose voices are so close at times to screeching and screaming as to dampen their cameo appearance.

Jonny Wexler, Tommso Antico, Corey Greenan & Chris Stevens
Production-wise, there have not been any noticeable changes to the touring show of San Francisco two years ago.  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.

Four times and counting for me, and if yet another tour makes it way to the Bay Area, look for me in the front row for Jersey Boys.  I really like to hear those boys sing as they tell a story that still fascinates!

Rating: 5 E

Jersey Boys continues through June 10, 2018 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts as part of Broadway San Jose, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose.  Tickets are available online at

Photo by Joan Marcus

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