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Review: Catch The 'Jersey Boys' While You Can

By Vince Vicentuan

Manila, Philippines--To call JERSEY BOYS a "jukebox musical" is downright myopic, as underneath the musical's cotton-candy pop hits lies a piercing story of ambition, love, drugs, sex, greed, failures, triumphs, and yes, family values. However, it would take more than a fanatic mind to look beyond those monster hits to see the real heart of the show--one that tells of realities past that still ring true in today's cutthroat music industry.

Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group's (ATEG) gamble on the Tony Award-winning musical seems to be foolproof, and the standing ovation on opening night [September 23] must be an indication that here is one potential hit for audiences regardless of generation or age. But that is if today's audiences, who do not know what a jukebox is in this coin-free digital age, get it.

In an interview with Billboard, Frankie Valli said, "The Broadway musical has created a new awareness about The Four Seasons, especially with younger people." Director Bobby Garcia must have had that same notion with the Philippine millennials in mind when he set on this journey.

But how does today's younger generation see beyond the pomp and romp of the musical? Simple: those little back stories make for delicious reality TV these days. Yes, this is one jukebox musical, all right, but with a heart.

Story, Plot, and Theme

JERSEY BOYS is the real story of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio of New Jersey, collectively known as The Four Seasons, who had sold over 100 million records and is regarded as the most successful band before the Beatles. They are responsible for epic hits such as Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like a Man, Working My Way Back to You, December 1963 (Oh What a Night), and Can't Take My Eyes Off You. The musical puts together the hits while charting the doo-wop group's rise from the clubs of New Jersey in the late '50s to superstardom in the '60s and thereafter, from the quartet's eventual breakup that left Valli a solo act to the band's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. And there's much more.

By combining these back stories and monster hits with the right blend of drama, glitzy production numbers, and humor, Garcia had solidly punched nostalgia into baby boomer hearts and some musical sensibility into millennial skulls on opening night.

The Cast

The formidable cast is composed of a mix of 17 veteran actors and newbies who can engage the audience with such powerful and engrossing presence.

Leading the pack is Nyoy Volante, already a theater veteran at such young age, who essays the part of Frankie Valli. His diminutive frame notwithstanding, Volante's effortless falsetto and remarkable dramatic presence are simply big, pun unintended. While he shines brightly in those quartet numbers, it is in the hushed solo numbers that he shines the brightest: his "telephone scene" and Fallen Angel will surely tug at the heart of every millennial, in these times when party drugs seem to be the easy way out of teenage angsts.

Christian Bautista's Bob Gaudio, the group's chief songwriter, is one that makes full use of the actor's immense theater experience. Stifled by a weak sound, the first quarter of Act 1 was struggling for a much-needed lift. It was Bautista who provided that vocal energy. Thankfully, the problematic front-house speakers recovered before the act ended, and the show took off instantly.

Nino Alejandro as Nick Massi may not have those big solo musical acts but his narratives are delivered with enviable pathos and a tinge of accent that neither overwhelms nor compromise clarity. Given his own musical gifts and natural flair for subtle comedy, Alejandro is a theater star to watch for.

A no-newbie himself, Markki Stroem as Tommy DeVito is one who knows how to use his charm to his full advantage. His Tommy is one that is lovable even in his most scheming ways. His grand entrance and narratives in the first act though, marred by audio problems, came across weak and almost incomprehensible. Thankfully, he recovered when the speakers did, but Stroem needs more maturity to push his act further in the second half.

Equally memorable performances also come from Jamie Wilson whose Gyp de Carlo is just plain standout (his is one lovable mobster with an equally lovable accent to boot); Steven Conde whose ensemble roles command utmost audience attention; Yanah Laurel whose Lorraine is just tragic sans the melodrama; Nelsito Gomez whose young Joe Pesci could actually pass for the real thing, Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante whose Mary Delgado (Valli's first wife) successfully constructs the emotional pivot to the story. Also worth mentioning are the ensemble members who provide the strong scaffold for the main actors to shine on.

Scenic Design, Lights, and Band

The scenic design--a curious giant installation art that frames the entire stage--crafted by young and promising Faust Peneyra, is just impossible to ignore. That is actually its boon and its bane. When flamboyantly lit, the giant installation art pulses with rhythm and color, but on the opposite, it looks like an open-pit coal mine ominously looming over the actors. In solemn numbers, its presence is felt best when it disappears. That is not to undermine though the immense creative talent Peneyra has to offer. The call is now on the lights design team to pick up the challenge. Overall, the lights design is at its best when extremely loud or extremely subdued.

The 10-man band on the other hand, under the musical direction of Ceejay Javier, breathes life into the show, song after song, with sustained energy from start to finish.

The Verdict

You can't take your eyes (and ears, too) off this engaging, finger-snapping-toe-tapping show that can break your heart when you least expect it. Catch the boys, while you can!

JERSEY BOYS, recipient of 12 Tony Award nominations and five Tonys in 2012, features an original book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe.

It plays the Meralco Theatre until Sunday, October 16, 2016. For tickets, call Ticketworld at (632) 891-999 or visit TicketWorld.com.ph.

Photos: Jaime Unson

Vince Vicentuan is a licensed English teacher, a graduate student at the Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools (MA in Educational Administration), and the Humanities and Social Sciences academic coordinator of FEU High School in Manila where he teaches oral communication, art appreciation, and creative writing. A theater artist, he had worked as the theater manager of Assumpta Theater-CCP of the East in Assumption Antipolo, and written and directed his own musicals such as "Sulyap-Lahi," "The Wonder Bookshop" 1 and 2, and "Whose Garden is This?" among others. He appeared in the Philippine productions of "Oliver!," "Chess the Musical," "A Midsummer-Night's Dream," "The Magic Staff," "Dalagang Bukid," and "Bakhita the Musical," among others. As a teacher of English and literature, in most of his reviews, he writes for students who he believes must be educated in theater appreciation and creative writing.



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