BWW Review: Ogunquit Playhouse's 2019 Production of JERSEY BOYS
After a successful run of Jersey Boys during the 2018 season, Executive Artistic Director, Bradford T. Kenney, kicked of the opening night of the 87th season at the Ogunquit Playhouse announcing, "Jersey Boys 2.0."
You might say that success builds success. If a show can run to sold out audiences for eight weeks in 2018, might it be worth running the show again the following year?
That's the gamble that the Ogunquit Playhouse takes by offering an entirely new production of Jersey Boys, but with the same four lead actors portraying the famed quartet, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
The result is a supercharged version of last year's production with a few new supporting actors and some minor changes in various scenes. If you didn't see last year's production, you'll be astounded by the talent that bursts off the Ogunquit stage. And if you saw last year's production, I am convinced you'll be twice as amazed at what a phenomenal work of theater this new production offers.
The show has all the elements of success. With a quartet of actors who live and breathe their roles, musicians who pour their hearts into the musical numbers, and a story line that is all at once dramatic, compelling and comic, Jersey Boys stills ranks as on the of the finest shows I've ever seeing in Ogunquit.
The story details the meteoric rise of The Four Seasons in the music world; how the group came together, what journey brought them fame and fortune, and what were the highlights and not-so-highlights that chronicle their career. The show can't miss with a series of nonstop hits like Earth Angel, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like a Man, Let's Hang On, Can't Take My Eye Off of You, and the unforgettable classic, Sherry. But behind the music, is a poignant story that really holds the show together.
When Broadway producers approached band members, Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli about creating a musical about their life story, the response was positive. But the amazing twist was that producers were able to interview all band members separately to hear their individual and, oftentimes, contradictory memories of their rise to fame. The result is a stage musical with memorable characters, great storytelling, and a journey that audiences find well worth taking.
Jersey Boys is the success story about four high school dropouts from a rough section of New Jersey who flirted with crime (a couple of them doing a brief stint in the slammer) but went on to be one of the biggest vocal quartets of the '60s.
Tommy DeVito (Matt Magnusson) serves as the primary narrator of the show. He's the one who gives birth to the group's humble beginnings, but who is also the one that dooms their rise to success with enormous debt brought on by a gambling habit.
All the biographical basis of the show is here - how DeVito got the idea for the group when he heard Francis Castelluccio aka Frankie Valli (Jonathan Mousset) let loose with those impossibly high falsetto notes; how songwriter Bob Gaudio (Andy Christopher) got involved and inspired the direction of the group; and how their path to success was plagued with name changes, a lack of bookings, and years that saw them performing as back up singers rather than lead performers. They also contended with the eventual departure of one of the original four members, Nick Massi (Matthew Amira).
Mousset is at the helm of the production recreating the gritty, but innocent, street kid, Valli, who always wanted to sing. His performance is original, not a carbon copy of Frankie Valli, as he performs just about every number with that trademark falsetto voice. His presence dominates the stage as he not only portrays Frankie Valli, but I'm convinced channels the famed singer.
Magnusson, as the driven and determined Tommy DeVito, is brilliant in a performance that is engaging, intense, and somewhat heartbreaking in a character that wants to do well for the group but goes awry with a few bad decisions.
Christopher, as Gaudio, is wonderfully cast as the more poised member of the fiery Italian foursome. His character is charming and determined with a powerful voice that blends perfectly with the group.
Amira is ever so convincing as Massi, the band member who left the group at the height of their career. In his final center stage monologue to the audience, he summarizes his departure beautifully, "But when there's four guys in a group....and you're Ringo," referring to Ringo Starr who was often seen as merely a backdrop to the Beatles, headlined by McCartney, Harrison and Lennon.
As in all productions of Jersey Boys, performers need the triple play talent to pull it off-the vocals, the ability to dance, and the musicianship to play an instrument. This cast scores high marks in all three talents. There renditions of Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, and Can't Take My Eyes Off of You result in explosive applause and a rare mid-show standing ovation. (In the latter number, many supporting role actors take the stage as the brass section back up.)
The three hour show zips by effortlessly with the return of director, Holly-Anne Palmer, and choreographer Gerry McIntyre, and new music direction by Jacob Yates. The multi layered scaffolding and moveable array of stairs returned for Jersey Boys 2.0. While the staging didn't impress me in last year's show, I was intrigued with its creative use in this year's production.
As I said last year, and need to repeat again with this returning production, if you never saw the original Four Seasons in performance, this Ogunquit Playhouse show is the closest you'll ever get to experiencing Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in person.
Photo: Gary Ng