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BWW Review: Chasing the Music: MSMT Mounts Spectacular JERSEY BOYS in Westbrook

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MSMT's 2021 Main Stage Show Is a Must-See!

BWW Review: Chasing the Music: MSMT Mounts Spectacular JERSEY BOYS in Westbrook

In the final moments of the 2005 hit musical JERSEY BOYS, Frankie Valli muses, "We were all just chasing the music." For those fans of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Bob Gaudio/Bob Crewe/Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice show about the group's rise to fame and artistic and personal struggles, the "chase" need take them no farther than Westbrook Performing Arts Center where Maine State Music Theatre has mounted a spectacular production that is a must-see. In their only main stage show of the 2021 season, MSMT's JERSEY BOYS, directed by Mark Martino and choreographed by Kenny Ingram, is a joyous, boisterous, dazzling, powerful, incisive, edgy and ultimately uplifting story that rivets from start to finish.

JERSEY BOYS, unlike so many biopics and juke box musicals, benefits from a compelling book AND irresistible music. Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice tell the story of four Italian-American young men from the grittier neighborhoods of New Jersey, who make their way to rock and roll stardom, but whose journey is fraught with tumult, conflict, and even crime and tragedy, in a tightly knit storyline that uses multiple narrators, who seamlessly handoff the tale to each other, providing varied perspectives. Moreover, the original Four Seasons songs by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe are flawlessly integrated into the action so that the entire fabric of the show is perfectly interwoven.

Director Mark Martino brings to the work a profound sense of reality and a deep understanding and empathy for the characters. He creates a vivid portrait of place and time period and the Italian-American blue collar culture that spawns the Four Seasons. His pacing is taut, and the momentum he imparts to the cast is electric. Kenny Ingram's choreography masterfully completes the effect, recreating the angular rhythms that made the group famous and capturing the kinetic and seductive energy of the music and the men. Music Director Jason Wetzel (Assistant Ruchir Khazanchi) leads the eight-person onstage band that plays with a rich layered, propulsive sound.

All the elements of the physical production are disarmingly simple, yet beautiful and evocative. Charles S. Kading's unit set is a major factor in allowing the action to flow so freely and smoothly. Consisting of several moveable units and levels in shades of gray, washed over by subtle projections, enlivened by glittering drops, and punctuated by chrome and metal props, the entire ambiance is geometric, post-modern, with just the right touch of grit. Jamie Grant's lighting adds color as needed and reinforces the angular geometry of the visuals. The same neutral palette predominates in Kathleen Payton Brown's well-cut period costumes, though well-chosen flashes of color and texture make statements when needed. Kevin S. Foster completes the look with wigs that recreate the "big hair" of the 1960s. Julie Ferrin does a fine job of balancing sound in the thousand-seat auditorium, while Stage Manager Mark Johnson secures the smooth running.

The cast creates a true ensemble in the very best sense of the word. Note perfect with accents and gestures, they bring a genuineness to their roles. Joshua Charles Skurnik makes a touching Frankie Valli, and he delivers Valli's unique timbre and high-flying vocal range with impressive ease. Sam Wolf makes Tommy DeVito an appealing bad boy with a wicked sense of humor and a fatal obtuseness; John Battagliese provides excellent contrast as the more ambitious and serious Bob Gaudio; and Matthew Amira strikes just the right chords as the long-suffering Nick Massi (who indulges in a spectacular meltdown before the close). Together, the four convincingly create the singular vocal harmonies and dance movements for which the group was known.

BWW Review: Chasing the Music: MSMT Mounts Spectacular JERSEY BOYS in Westbrook The ensemble, who all play multiple roles, are equally remarkable triple threats. The ease with which they morph from character to character and the panache with which they sing and dance contribute to the excellence of the whole. Matt Loehr gives a colorful account of the script's version of Bob Crewe; Jim Ballard is the perfect tight-lipped, mafia-like Gyp DeCarlo; Mike Backes is a threatening presence as Norm Waxman; Tony Lawrence Clements is a wide-eyed, over eager young Joe Pesci. Alex Drost as Joe Long and Kyle Laing as Charlie Calello have their moments in the spotlight as backup singers for Valli, while Jeremy Gaston and Daniel Velasquez make a catchy contribution as the two new Four Seasons quartet members, among other roles. Kim Sava is a street-wise, tough-talking Mary Delgado; Taylor Broadard makes Lorraine a sympathetic ray of light in Valli's life; Emily Kelly is a forlorn and rebellious Francine, and Carissa Gaughran plays Miss Frankie Nolan in an amusing recording studio sequence and serves as the company dance captain.

JERSEY BOYS is one of the most beloved and produced Broadway titles of recent years, but MSMT's production has an extra special cachet. Not only is it produced with the impeccable artistic excellence for which the company is renowned, but it has an exceptional air of authenticity to it. As a "Jersey girl" who grew up with the melodies of the Four Seasons, this production captures the magic of the music and the fascination of the storyline with an immediacy and intensity that is impossible to resist.

Some eight years ago in writing about an MSMT season, I used the word "integrity" to describe the company's body of work. I used it to connote the wholeness of the artistic creation and the harmony of its well-fitting parts. Today, in speaking of JERSEY BOYS and of MSMT, in general, I can use "integrity" not only in this meaning, but also in another sense of the word - to describe the character of the leadership who have produced this extraordinary main stage show and, indeed, a whole season of offerings that preceded it. The pressures of the pandemic have dealt MSMT (and theatres everywhere) some fierce challenges and unkind blows. That this family of artists and professionals, under the leadership of Curt Dale Clark and Stephanie Dupal, have met them with courage, compassion, concern for others, and a care for the future is cause for celebration and support!

Author's Note: Adding distinction to this very special opening night was the presence of Dan Crewe, lyricist/producer Bob Crewe's brother, in the audience.

Photographs courtesy of MSMT, Jared Morneau, photographer

MSMT's JERSEY BOYS runs at Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater Rd., Westbrook from September 1-19. Tickets at 207-725-8769 or www.msmt.org


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