June 23, 2006

JB–A Bio For All Seasons!

June 23rd, 2006

Sioux City Journal staff writer Bruce R. Miller notes that Frankie Valli may be the most recognizable member of The Four Seasons but “Jersey Boys” is hardly a one-man show. Set to a driving, infectious beat, the stage biography gives ample time to the group’s other members, weaving a tale that’s both cautionary and laudatory.

Tommy DeVito — not Valli — serves as the musical’s first narrator, detailing the journey that began under a lamppost and wound up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Miller says that Christian Hoff — as DeVito — is a great tour guide, willing to point out the good, the bad and the ugly of a shared career. He’s a born salesman, able to pitch undercoating to even the biggest skeptic. Once he hears Valli’s pure voice, he’s determined to build a group around it and climb the charts. Trios, though, are out; the British invasion is on its way. With the right material, DeVito figures, his new group can break through the clutter.

Director Des McAnuff doesn’t make any of it seem easy. But when he gives John Lloyd Young (as Valli) his first notes, the die is cast. “Jersey Boys” sings like no other.

Unlike other recent musician biographies, “Jersey Boys” offers plenty of twists, turns and surprises. It even includes actor Joe Pesci (no kidding) as a key player in the group’s success. Responsible for introducing De Vito, Valli, and Nick Massi (J. Robert Spencer) to Bob Gaudio (Daniel Reichard), the group’s eventual composer, he’s much-needed comic relief and a touchstone for those who can’t believe the serendipity that surrounds a quartet like this.

Using the Seasons’ songs as commentary, McAnuff is able to give those pop tunes new meaning — and dimension. “December 1963,” for example, underscores Gaudio’s indoctrination in the world of pop stars. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” becomes a lament for Valli, a nice guy torn between personal and professional obligations.

DeVito, though, provides the group’s biggest challenge. He’s a wild card, willing to play when he should be shuffling along with the rest. Hoff – who won a Tony for his work — straddles the saint/sinner worlds beautifully, giving the others plenty of motivation for their characters.

Young doesn’t get as many big scenes, but he’s blessed with that Frankie falsetto that’s a wonder to behold. When he hits the high notes, “Jersey Boys” does, too.

The show has many of the staging techniques McAnuff used in “Tommy” and lighting design that focuses attention with pinpoint precision.

The choreography is clever, too, and when McAnuff puts his actors’ backs to the audience, you know something is up. The ending explodes with excitement – and tears – suggesting this is exactly what music triumph must feel like.

Because “Jersey Boys” hits the perfect demographic (Baby Boomers willing to wrap themselves in nostalgia), it should be a huge hit on the road. “We put Jersey on the map,” DeVito says in the beginning. But “Jersey Boys” will keep it there. It’s the perfect stage biography – a “men for all seasons.”

1 Comment »

  1. Someone should email that critic and remind him that John Lloyd Young also won a Tony.

    Comment by JB FAN — June 23, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

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