Tonight the Ohio Theatre hosted a “press night” for its three-week run of Jersey Boys, as the national tour sets up shop in Columbus through September 4.
Broadway’s 2006 Best Musical Tony-winner about the sordid rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (America’s Beatles before The Beatles), definitely pleased the mostly middle-aged audience at the packed Ohio Theatre. An intense standing ovation immediately struck as soon as the last chord of the group’s 1975 hit “Who Loves You” was strung.
The show was electrifying. And though my only experience with The Four Seasons has been “oldies” radio and the late Heath Ledger’s swoon-worthy performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes of You” in the 1999 Julie Stiles vehicle 10 Things I Hate About You, it had me captivated from start to finish. The musical is a true testament to the undeniable longevity of classic music. (Interesting side note: The real Frankie Valli, who, surprisingly, is still touring at age 77, will be making his way through Columbus for a holiday show Dec. 9.)
Anyone who hasn’t seen “Jersey Boys” could easily dismiss it as your typically clichéd jukebox musical. A simple male rip off of Dreamgirls. The rags-to-riches tales of pop music stars has been told and retold for centuries. And the story about a group of Italian rough necks fromNew Jersey that make it, against all odds, to the top of the Billboard Charts during the 1960s is as cliché a tale as they come. Not to mention, classic hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man” and “Bye Bye Baby” have been heard in more movies and commercials than one would care to remember.
So why then does “Jersey Boys” still rock the house in 2011? Again, it goes back to a cliché. Brilliant storytelling will always pay.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s Tony-nominated book breaths new life into the Bob Gaudio music and Bob Crewe lyrics that made The Four Seasons legends. Brickman and Elice perfectly build the first act, filled with the ruckus behind Four Seasons originator Tommy DeVito’s (Matt Bailey) shady tactics, toward that first hit that finally put the quartet on the map. When Joseph Leo Bwarie (Frankie Valli) sings the last note of “Sherry” the crowd erupts with satisfaction. Brickman and Elice somehow transports you back to 1962, it’s as if you’re actually watching the group “make it” in real time.
Bailey, Bwarie, Steve Gouveia (Nick Massi) and Quinn VanAntwerp (Gaudio) are a harmonizing dream team as the four leading men. It’s as if Valli’s signature falsetto was transplanted into Bwarie’s vocal chords.
The show’s visuals are equally stunning. Howell Binkley’s Tony-winning lighting nearly steals the show on its own. The Lichtenstein-style projections, period video footage and Jess Goldstein’s era-eccentric costumes perfectly enhanced the spectacle.
We’ve seen many of the themes in this show before—a family torn apart by a traveling musician, fame dangerously heightening a man’s addiction (this time it’s gambling), the drama of a budding star outshining the rest of the group—but we haven’t seen a jukebox musical that’s well written, well staged and well orchestrated from top to bottom, until Jersey Boys.
“Jersey Boys” runs through September 4 at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State Street, Columbus. Tickets are $57.50 to $127.50. Call 614-469-0939 or visit www.broadwayacrossamerica. com.