BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS at Eccles Theater

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS at Eccles TheaterQue tous ceux qui sont dans la vibe / (Levent le doigt) / Que toutes celles qui sont dans la vibe / (Levent le doigt) / Que ceux qui sont assis se levent / (Suivez-vous moi) / Allez maintenant on y va

Know the song? Me neither. Unless sung in its original English lyrics. But a French-language version of "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" opens "Jersey Boys."

Not the way I'd recommend beginning a jukebox musical on the Four Seasons...

"Jersey Boys" is not the worst jukebox musical script. (That dishonor belongs to the confusingly popular "Mamma Mia!") Or is it that shows like the more recent Tony-winning "Book of Mormon," "Fun Home" and "Hamilton" have shown us how innovative and adventurous musicals can be? One can hope the abruptly closed "Escape to Margaritaville," with a wasted-away box office, has extinguished any desire for pop chart-topping songs that are arbitrarily plopped into scripts. ("If ever there were a time to be drunk in the theater, this is it.")

"Jersey Boys" at Salt Lake City's Eccles Theater underwhelms.

With a book by master craftsmen Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the show is deceptively straightforward. Rather than forcing a song to tell a story it wasn't intended to relate -- "What's the Name of the Game," to ask four men which of them is a father in "Mamma Mia!," as the worst offender -- and the numbers are often staged as if in a concert performance, almost without sensing the idea is overemployed. additionally, each member of the quartet takes center stage to tell his own account of the Four Seasons' early years.

The real problem is the stories aren't genuinely compelling. It's more VH1 "Behind the Music" clichés: petty-crime arrests, fights over money, trouble with the missus, the record industry. And there's zero dramatic tension.

Where the show triumphs is the superior staging by the gifted director Des McAnuff that complements some of the most listenable pop/rock music of the last half century. Along with "Sherry," the are a truckload of infectiously energetic chart-toppers, including "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," "Walk Like a Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry." And, we're reminded, the Four Seasons was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

There is also Brickman and Elice dialogue that is fresh and funny. Though the beginning of the first act is frenetically paced, this touring cast largely delivers the intents of "Jersey Boys."

As lead singer Frankie Valli, Utahn Aaron De Jesus is appealing. Notably, he left the off-Broadway cast to travel in this tour. (For his stage debut, while in middle school he played Prince Chulalongkorn in Provo High School's "The King and I.") He basks in the hometown warmth the opening-night audience gleefully showered. (John Lloyd Young, the original Broadway Valli, won a Tony and reprised the role in Clint Eastwood's movie adaptation.) In the demanding role, he closely mimics Valli's Signature Sound, but his falsetto sometimes slides a bit too high.

De Jesus falls into the same trap as his lead castmates. They are slick and overly artificial, singing emotion-filled songs -- "My Mother's Eyes," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" -- mechanically. As songwriter Bob Gaudio, Tommaso Antico sings pleasantly enough but spoken dialogue is expressionless.

I applaud the hard-working supporting cast, taking on multiple roles and occasionally given a chance to shine in snippets of solos -- while moving set pieces on- and off-stage. These "Jersey girls" (Caitlin Leary, Michelle Rombola and Jenna Nicole Schoen) play 46 female roles.

Remain confident that the stage manager had a few notes for the woefully unsteady, cue-missing follow-spot operator.

On Broadway, "Jersey Boys" enjoyed a 4,642-performance run, from 2005-2017, and a downsized off-Broadway open-ended restaging followed. In Las Vegas, the show played for eight years. There have been a slew of national tours and multiple international companies.

The Energizer battery commercial is referenced in "Jersey Boys." Like the bunny, this show "just keeps going and going."

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From This Author Blair Howell

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