BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS at Starlight Theatre
"Jersey Boys," performing now through Sunday, July 2 at Starlight Theatre in Swope Park, can only be described as a pure jukebox musical. Pay your money, hit the start button, and enjoy the excellent, right-on performances of the Frankie Valli songbook from some very good actors simulating what it must have been like to enjoy the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons beginning in 1953 and continuing through most of the 1960s.
The star of this production is Aaron De Jesus as Frankie. His freak falsetto tenor closely approximates the original. Physically, De Jesus resembles Valli. Vocally, he nails the songs. All this is essential because without a great "Valli voice" this puppy will not hunt.
The Four Seasons, for those of you who are too young to have danced to them, were a quartet of Italian street guys from the Newark, New Jersey (suburban New York City) area. The group's founder and oldest member was Tommy DeVito (portrayed here by Matthew Dailey). DeVito is shown here as a more than passable musician whose major contribution was his recognition of Valli's unusual talent. DeVito also had a number of negatives attached to his personality. He had a number of brushes with local law, the Internal Revenue Service, and loan sharks connected to the Jersey chapter of the mob.
"Jersey Boys" presents DeVito mainly as a cartoon character. He speaks with a thick "Jersey/Brooklyn" brogue that one would expect coming out of the mouth of a made man. His place in the world is defined by him seeing himself as being in charge. Frankie Valli joined DeVito in the early 1950s in a number of largely unsuccessful bands with differing band members.
The show diverges from the actual history and compresses the story. Nick Massi (Keith Hines) actually joined DiVito and Valli and in 1958, but is shown here as being a member of the group from the beginning. The following year composer Bob Gaudio (Cory Jeacoma) joined the group. They associated themselves with record producer Bob Crewe and worked as a backup band for other of Crewe's headliners.
The addition of composer and performer Gaudio led to eventual success for the renamed "Four Seasons" mostly with Crewe as lyricist. The group became big time stars, but eventually fell apart. DiVito's gambling debts and his arrogant failure to make filings with the IRS left the group saddled with his high six figure debt. Valli and the group took on DiVito's debt.
DiVito moved to Las Vegas where he continues to live. Today he is 89 years old. Massi got tired of touring and went home. He has since passed away. Gaudio also tired of touring and left the group to pursue music composition and producing, but remained friendly with Valli.
Frankie Valli continues to perform at age 83. Valli's own personal challenges caused by the touring lifestyle are touched upon in the show. He lost his first wife to his prolonged absences, a daughter died of a drug overdose, a journalist girlfriend left because the two seemed always passing between jobs, and making up for DiVito's incurred debt proved a continuing mountain to climb.
The Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and reunited for the Jersey Boys opening on Broadway in 2005. The show won six Tony awards and played for more than 4600 performances.
"Jersey Boys" offers up super production values with this touring show. Portrayals of Massi and DiVito are a little one dimensional, but the singing, acting, production, and dancing make up for any lack. The supporting cast is excellent.
"Jersey Boys" is a little strange to get used to. It is an excuse for a concert of great music. The music does not advance the story much except in parallel in the documentary. Most of the first act is required for the audience to get used to the style, but the final forty minutes grabs the audience and transports them back to the golden age just prior to the Beatles in the Doo Wop period. The audience ends up loving the performance.
"Jersey Boys" continues at Starlight Theatre through Sunday, July 2. Tickets are available at the box office, online, or by telephone at 816-363-7827.
Photo provided by Starlight Theatre