JERSEY BOYS

Mark Ballas shows off Frankie Valli vocals to match his Dancing With The Stars footwork as Jersey Boys, the 12th-longest-running show in Broadway history, arrives at the Ahmanson Theatre to dazzle audiences with its true-life story of pop legends The Four Seasons (plus a few dozen Top Forty smashes thrown in for zing).

Most of these Greatest Hits (music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe) get performed as the Seasons did themselves throughout the 1960s—in recording studios, clubs, and concerts, and on TV variety shows—and what a collection they make, highlighted by the group’s five Number One chart-toppers “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” and “Rag Doll,” and the aforementioned “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).”

It’s that final Four Seasons’ Number One that gets things started, Yannick’s 2000 rap-en-français remix “Ces Soirées-Là” opening Jersey Boys with a Vegas-style French-language bang, before original Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito takes us back to the 1950s and the destined-for-pop-stardom group’s Newark, NJ origins.

One of book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s most inspired choices is to tell Jersey Boys in “four seasons,” Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter narrated Rashomon-style by one of the original Seasons (DeVito, Nick Massi, Gaudio, and the one-and-only Valli).

Thus we first get Tommy’s spin on The Four Seasons’ start (including Tommy-&-Nick’s multiple albeit relatively brief incarcerations and their mob connection with mafia boss Gyp DeCarlo), followed by The Gospel According To Bob (the songwriting genius whose melodies were a key factor in The Four Seasons’ rise to stardom).

Original member Nick then assumes the narration, with Frankie at last taking over to recount the events leading up to his solo stardom, before a Crewe-narrated coda reunites the original Four Seasons at their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame circa 2000 (which just happens to be the year Yannick released “Ces Soirées-Là”).

While Jersey Boys doesn’t flinch from the dark side of the group’s success, there is every bit as much joy as sorrow whenever National Tour stars Ballas, Matthew Dailey (Tommy Devito), Keith Hines (Nick Massi), and Cory Jeacoma (Bob Gaudio) perform hit after hit after hit to audience cheers and tears.

With director extraordinaire Des McAnuff at the helm and choreographer Sergio Trujillo giving us those signature ‘60s grooves, Jersey Boys moves at a breakneck pace, and sensationally so, a number of sequences proving particular standouts, notably a pair of suspenseful lead-ups to the revelation and subsequent performance of the Seasons’ very first hit and Frankie’s very first solo smash.

The creative team’s decision to end Act One with a dramatic cliffhanger rather than the great big production number—“Dawn (Go Away)”—that precedes it is but is another of their savvy moves, a reminder that Jersey Boys is ultimately the real-life tale of four boys from Jersey, warts and all.

Still, though Brickman and Elice’s book reads like a drama, director McAnuff and his supremely talented design team have opted to stage Jersey Boys with Broadway-musical dazzle.

Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova’s Tony-nominated industrial set may appear all black and scaffoldy at first glance, but plenty of flash from neon signs, Michael Clark’s cartoon LED projections, live and vintage B&W footage, and saturated Technicolor backdrops make the production a nonstop visual treat.

Ballas, Dailey, Hines, and Jeacoma’s four-part harmonies are every bit as gorgeous as the original pop quartet’s, but each triple-threat gets ample opportunity to strut his dramatic stuff. In fact, rarely has a Broadway musical offered more of a chance for performers to act, and the majority of Jersey Boys’ supporting tracks are—unusually for a musical—dialog-based.

Performances could not be more spectacular, from Ballas’s adorable Frankie to Dailey’s cocky Tommy to Hines’s Lurch-like Nick to Jeacoma’s boy wonder Bob to top-notch supporting turns by Barry Anderson as a deliciously “theatrical” Crewe and Thomas Fiscella lending power and gravitas to mobster Gyp*.

The musical’s three featured females—Kristen Paulicelli* as the brassy Mary*, Leslie Rochette as lost child Francine*, and Jesse Wildman as the lovely Lorraine*—are every bit as fabulous as their male counterparts.

Multiple cameos are brought to vivid life by fight captain Corey Greenan (Billy Dixon*), David LaMarr (Barry Belson*), Andrew Russell (Hank Majewski*), Dru Serkes (Norm Waxman*), and a delightfully scrappy Jonny Wexler as the one-and-only “Joey” Pesci*.

Music director Taylor Peckham conducts the Jersey Boys orchestra, onstage in various configurations and numbers throughout the show, and you won’t find a more exciting bunch of musicians on tour.

The behind-the-scenes Broadway team’s contributions also include Howell Binkley’s flashy, Tony-winning lighting design, Jess Goldstein’s fabulous ‘50s/‘60s costumes, Steve Canyon Kennedy’s Vegas-ready sound design, Ron Melrose’s marvelous music supervision, vocal arrangements, and incidental music, and Charles LaPointe’s period wig and hair design.

Aaron De Jesus and Miguel Jarquin-Moreland will be playing Frankie at certain performances. Swings Mark Edwards (assistant dance captain), Bryan Hindle (dance captain), Austin Owen, and Jenna Nicole Schoen are poised to step into major and minor roles at a moment’s notice.

Associate director West Hyler and associate choreographer Danny Austin keep McAnuff and Trujillo’s vision fresh and alive on tour.

Andrew Neal is production stage manager. Additional program credits include Peter Fulbright (technical supervisor), Anna Belle Gilbert (stage manager) Richard Hester (production supervisor), Jason Pelusio (company manager), Lauren Pennington (assistant stage manager), and Steve Rankin (fight director).

An event of event status (and one that no rock ‘n’ roll fan or musical theater enthusiast will want to miss), Jersey Boys’ return to the Ahmanson for the first time in ten years is news to be celebrated far and wide. Oh what a night indeed!

*and others

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Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles. Through June 24. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 213 972.4400
www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

–Steven Stanley
May 18, 2017
Photos: Jim Carmody

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