BWW Review: The JERSEY BOYS Are Back at Dr. Phillips Center and Holding Their Own
Some things in theatre are eternally predictable. An "I Want" song. A showstopper at the end of Act I. An eleven o'clock number. Patti LuPone's next rant.
Equally predictable: every plot point in a true-life rise-to-fame story. JERSEY BOYS is no exception, chronicling the ascent of '60s pop sensations The Four Seasons.
The story beats are familiar, but they do come with a twist. This time, the stars rise on the wings of the mob... and, improbably, Joe Pesci.
Honestly, that's enough of a hook for me to ask, "How'd it happen?" and I'm not alone. JERSEY BOYS opened on Broadway in 2005, ran for twelve years, won four Tonys (including Best Musical), spawned a holiday album, became a major motion picture, and has toured near-constantly in the U.S. - a tour that this week arrives in Orlando for a return engagement at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
As of last fall, JERSEY BOYS has been seen on the stage by more than 25 million people around the world.
So, is it really that good?
Tough question. My first instinct is to say JERSEY BOYS ain't all that. It's a backstage, jukebox, rise-and-fall musical, a combination that ought to be the broadest, most formulaic thing you've ever seen.
Yet, it surprises. And not just in the sense that the guy from Home Alone and My Cousin Vinny is a key supporting character, though it bears repeating that this is an actual fact, and JERSEY BOYS makes the most of it.
First, it surprises in its willingness to play with structure (while declining to altogether break the mold). The musical is technically presented in two acts, but it's really four - Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. That's right: the four seasons... like the name of the band. That's cute, and it ought to be trite, but instead, it adds a welcome layer of complexity.
In Spring, the band rises. In Summer, they thrive. In fall, they... f- well, SPOILER ALERT. Each time, a different band member assumes the role of narrator, telling the story from his own perspective (though you never sense that one character's view is all that distinctive from the others). It's a defining feature of the show, presented much more effectively on stage than in Clint Eastwood's big-screen adaptation.
JERSEY BOYS surprises again in its ability to stuff nearly 40 preexisting songs into one show without feeling like a greatest hits concert or stopping the story each time.
It achieves that by blazing through those songs at breakneck pace, forcing them into narrative subservience. Only a few tunes are allowed to step out of the story and into the spotlight as a "big number," and the show is smart in choosing which ones get the honor.
This efficiency comes at a price. The story is frantic and hurried, especially in Spring. Critics have praised the show as "energetic," and it is, but it's also hard to really grab ahold of. Some of the characters get lost along the way, especially the women, who aren't given the three-dimensional development they deserve.
At Dr. Phillips Center, there's one more surprise in JERSEY BOYS. After all these years, you'd think the touring production would have a hard time finding actors who can pull off Frankie Valli's signature falsetto. Jonny Wexler nails it. It's not his first time on the tour, of course. (He previously played Pesci.)
The cast is solid across the board. I heard some grumblings about Corey Greenan's turn as Tommy DeVito, which is admittedly more "Joisey" than "Jersey," but it worked for me. If he comes across as a little greasy and stock-order, all the better. You're supposed to be somewhat skeezed out by the character anyway.
One cast member I could do without? The audience. Yes, these songs are wonderful and oh so sing-along-able. And reality dictates that this kind of show will attract those who wish their theatre ticket were a time machine. But a concert this is not. Believe me, I get the instinct to squeak out a "Sherry baby" all your own, but can I make a quick PSA? Singing along at a stage musical is generally considered poor form.
Given my druthers, I'd axe some other elements too: the French rap at the beginning of the show (painful and utterly unnecessary) and the comic strip graphics occasionally projected over the stage (distracting and anachronistic).
But all in all, JERSEY BOYS is one of Broadway's better jukebox musicals. If you've never seen the show, you oughta see what the fuss is about. (Hey, 25 million theatre goers can't be completely wrong!) Even if you have, seeing it at the gorgeous Dr. Phillips Center is worth your while, and the current cast does not disappoint.
A closing caveat, though: in place of a Playbill (which has been featured for each Dr. Phillips Broadway touring season in the past), the JERSEY BOYS program sports an orange banner that reads "BROADWAY at Dr. Phillips Center" instead. Let's hope that isn't the trend for the rest of this season, which otherwise offers the Center's best lineup yet. The people of Orlando deserve a Hamilton Playbill!
JERSEY BOYS runs through November 4 and is a season option for current subscribers to the 2018-2019 Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando season. To purchase individual tickets, visit the Dr. Phillips Center website or call (844) 513-2014.
What did you think of JERSEY BOYS at Dr. Phillips Center? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.