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Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Hobby Center is an Infectious Escape

Glitz and glam do an admirable job of covering up a weak book

Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Hobby Center is an Infectious Escape

For a messily scripted white-comfort piece, Jersey Boys sure can make for an effective toe-tapping diversion from the ever-encroaching dread that is life in the 2020s. Granted, it could benefit from chopping a good half hour from its runtime, but the breezy performances and energetic vocals on display at Theatre Under the Stars work double time to distract you from the material's flaws.


Granted, the script remains weak, mostly held together by the hoppy doowop numbers and a loose, meandering plot that does not justify its nearly three-hour runtime. The narrative is relatively shapeless and the script is riddled with borderline-sexist jokes that feel outdated even for 2004, when the show was originally written. For viewers who lack a nostalgic connection to the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys pretty much lives and dies on the charm of its stars and the energy of its numbers. To this production's credit, neither of these elements disappoint.

As the eponymous group of Garden State loafers turned superstars, Devon Goffman, Eric Chambliss, Matt Faucher, and Jon Hacker make an endearing ensemble, showing off a smooth vocal blend and 1950s pastiche showmanship. The musical numbers mostly hit the mark thanks to their natural talent and charisma. More than once, I found myself and the people around me channeling their excitement into some vigorous toe-tapping or the occasional shimmy in our seats. This production certainly understands the appeal of Jersey Boys and wisely leans into that appeal.

Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Hobby Center is an Infectious Escape
From left to right: Matt Faucher, Jon Hacker, Eric
Chambliss, and Devon Goffman
Photography credit: Joan Marcus

As for the individual actors, the problems with the script luckily do not diminish the overall likeability of the characters. Each member of the Four Seasons is clearly defined and played by actors who clearly understand the attraction of their personas.

Devon Goffman starts the show as Tommy DeVito, exuding macho magnetism and setting the tone through his suave narration and unaffected demeanor. However, we soon begin to see how fragile his masculinity actually is as his need to feel like the Big Man in Charge leads him to make a number of poor decisions that screw over his bandmates.

Goffman then hands off the torch to Eric Chambliss, whose Bob Gaudio is all earnest smiles, no-nonsense sobriety, and fish-out-of-water nervousness. He is particularly excellent in an Act One scene that has him losing his virtue to an alluring prostitute - a scene that would be aggressively expendable if not for Chambliss's impeccable comedic timing turning it into one of the funniest beats of the evening.

Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Hobby Center is an Infectious Escape
From left to right: Devon Goffman, Eric Chambliss,
Jon Hacker, and Matt Faucher
Photography credit: Joan Marcus

Matt Faucher is an altogether different presence, appropriate since Nick Massi is the outlier of the group, personality-wise. Quiet and stoic through most of the first act, Faucher gets to shine in Act Two as he imbues Massi with a straight man sensibility and delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Surprisingly, he manages to emerge as possibly the most engaging presence in the whole production, especially in the moment when he realizes that his staunch devotion to the Four Seasons is not returned by his bandmates.

Rounding out the core quartet is the headliner himself, Mr. Frankie Valli, played with a bounce and a smile by Jon Hacker. At first brush, his Frankie radiates an eagerness that borders on cloying. However, Hacker quickly relaxes into the role, drawing eyes directly to him during each of the group's numbers. Indeed, he may have the most natural showmanship out of the entire main cast. He is also fortunately blessed with the ungodly level of vocal stamina necessary for any actor taking on the role of Frankie; the character's vocals are not only the most difficult in the show, but the most vital for capturing the feel of the original Four Seasons. Rising to the challenge, Hacker does an admirable job recreating Valli's iconic countertenor.

Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Hobby Center is an Infectious Escape
Samantha Gershman and Jon Hacker
Photography credit: Joan Marcus

As for the rest of the cast, they hit their marks as needed and add heft and vocal presence to the central group. It's not a stretch to say that the play does not handle its female characters well, but Katie Goffman and Madison McGrew do their best to soften their characters and imbue them with more dimension than is afforded them by the script.

The set and lights, by Klara Zieglerova and Howell Binkley, respectively, strike the right tone between minimalism and glamor, giving the actors just enough room to move while facilitating many of the show-stopping numbers that punctuate the show. Special credit goes to Michael Clark's projection design, which provides some fun visuals and playful backdrops that add a lot of character to the production.

Character is certainly not something this show is lacking, and for the most part the direction maintains enough groove and style that one is almost given to forgive the flaws in the book. Although I would be remiss not to wonder what value there is, at this point in history, in a nostalgia piece such as Jersey Boys. The "rags to riches" story boasted as the central throughline of the play mostly gets lost in the schmaltz and there are moments of "common man" centrality in the script that seem to mock the social progressiveness of the 60's. It's unclear who the story speaks to other than the handful of older audience members and their offspring who grew up listening to the songs.

Perhaps though it is better not to focus on what the show does or does not contribute to our current cultural moment - there's nothing objectively wrong with a lightweight feel-good piece - and better to simply close our eyes and enjoy the music. That certainly seems to have been the aim of these starry-eyed men, whose music always had more to do with getting people's feet moving than getting them marching.

Breathe into it, open yourself to the vibrations, and let the music slip into your body. If you end up finding something to inspire you, all the better. If not, at least you were able to get away for a few hours and tap your feet to some classic tunes.

Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Hobby Center is an Infectious Escape
Eric Chambliss, Jon Hacker, Devon Goffman, Matt
Faucher, and the company of JERSEY BOYS.
Photography credit: Joan Marcus

Jersey Boys is running through May 22 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased at https://my.tuts.com/4043 or my calling guest services at (713) 558-8887.



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