BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The Muny

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The Muny

What a night it was at The Muny for Jersey Boys, the 2006 Tony Award winner for Best Musical. And when I say what a night, I mean Oh. What. A. Night. of doo-wop megahits galore! The Muny's opening night audience of over 8,400 showed up ready to be rocked, swayed, grooved, and shook, and all of that and more was delivered.

This world regional premier of Jersey Boys, a biographical musical, based on the true stories of the legendary pop/doo-wop group, The Four Seasons, is directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes with music direction by Rick Bertone. Unlike other musicals in this genre, each hit song in this jukebox musical contributes to the dramatic arc of the band's own story rather than merely accompanying a fictitious storyline. Cleverly, the dramatic structure of the musical also unfolds like the four seasons of a year, in equally credible installments by the members of the band, each who narrates a portion of the story. With super-smooth harmonies and straight-shooting dialogue that provide a compelling chronicle of the group's history, you will not want to miss your limited opportunity to see this show.

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The MunyThis production opens on a mostly bare stage (with little more than risers and screen-projected images of a brick wall) to a colorful dance number set to a popular 2000 "Oh What a Night" cover. The Four Seasons' lead guitarist Tommy DeVito (played by Nicolas Dromard, last seen in Jersey Boys on Broadway), who is credited for both beginning the band and blamed for sabotaging the group's success later, invites us back to the early 60s with him. He tells us in no uncertain terms that he not only built the group that would "put Jersey on the map," but also was singlehandedly responsible for discovering Frankie Valli. Oh, and also, Tommy taught Frankie everything Frankie knows.

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The Muny

Soon, we meet Frankie himself (Mark Ballas, Dancing with the Stars, Broadway's Jersey Boys). While Ballas is perhaps best known for his work on Dancing With The Stars, his powerful, smooth falsetto sort of reaches out and grabs us by the collar, forcing us to come along for the ride that will be this wonderfully melodious show. We like Frankie, if only because of his voice - oh his buttery voice! - and we want to see him grow from an impoverished Jersey boy who went to school to be a hairdresser into the megastar he was born to be. As the characters struggle to find the right band members and the right vibe, there's a fair bit of exposition in these early scenes. We do need the backstory to understand the pride and resentment that build into deeper conflicts for Tommy later, so be patient through these.

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The MunyAs Bob Gaudio (Bobby Conte Thornton, Broadway's A Bronx Tale) takes over the story, he sheds light on the band's early struggles and then how, due in large part to his own songwriting skills, the band was finally propelled into a position to rise into their eventual place of prominence in the cannon of American music. It is here that we are treated to the first of many toe-tapping, head-bobbing megahits like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Oh What a Night," "My Eyes Adored You," and "Walk Like a Man." As the performers adeptly belt these out, we get to ride alongside their successes, and despite the news that their personal relationships are beginning to deteriorate, at intermission, the opening night audience was still singing and animated, after loud and lengthy applause.

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The MunyIn Act 2, Nick Massi (Keith Hines, Jersey Boys national tour) narrates us into the rocky recovery attempts of a band that is rapidly falling apart. With Tommy racking up debts and landing the quartet in jail, which infuriates Bob; and with Tommy's jealousy over Frankie's success, which leads to Tommy seducing Frankie's girlfriend; and with Nick questioning his desire to be involved with the music industry at all, Massi's delivery has a nice energy about it, with highlights including his hilariously played "10 Years" monologue followed by a sunnily executed "Let's Hang On." And then as Frankie finishes up the band's story, sharing with us the remnants of what once was, coupled with a horrific personal tragedy, we realize that being a pop star isn't all it's cracked up to be. With love, loss, sex, financial and legal troubles all at the forefront at various points, we watch four young men thrown together by fate navigate a difficult rise to fame, followed by a seemingly quick and tragic fall. It's a fascinating peek into the perks and pressures of fame, and is truly a love letter to American pop and rock music's beginnings.

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The MunyThere are more than 30 energy-loaded hits in this show. There are matters of friendship, aspirations, disappointment, and the will to overcome their Italian American working-class crassness - yeah, these guys are the real deal. There are many comical laugh-out-loud moments, and moments when the audience can't help but burst into applause in early recognition of a fan-favorite song. In fact, when the band first played American Bandstand, the audience roared with approval. We were so invested in the triumph of this band of rebels, that it almost felt real.

BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Grooves Like a Jukebox at The Muny"My hand to God," as Tommy says repeatedly, you definitely don't have to be a boomer or even an adult to enjoy this show, but know that mature themes and explicit language lend realism to the trials that come along. The skeleton set felt two-dimensional at times, with a heavy reliance on projected images in place of more interesting set pieces. The dancing felt just right for the time period, though - not at all overdone - and the musicality of the show was, of course, most enjoyable. The principals and ensemble alike, which includes the Muny Teens, performed with strong, synchronized harmonies that were at times, simply dreamlike. Andrea Lauer's classy costumes are appropriately reminiscent of the American Bandstand era, with some sparkly surprises, too.

Performances continue now through July 16 at The Muny with Monday being an additional performance with premium seating available. Be prepared to leave singing Four Seasons' hits all week. You're not going to want to miss this one.

Jersey Boys is written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe. Jersey Boys is proudly sponsored by BMO Harris Bank.

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From This Author Tanya Seale

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