BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS Hypnotizes and Mesmerizes at the National Theatre

"Oh, what a night, hypnotizing, mesmerizing me!"

Yes, Jersey Boys is back in DC with a production that is hypnotizing and memorizing audiences, causing them to the move and groove in their seats at the National Theatre. With the musical celebrating its tenth anniversary and its inspiration, the Four Seasons, having first débuted half a century ago, the show and this tour show no signs of aging as evidenced by the rapturous applause that greeted such hits as "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man."

So, how do four guys from Jersey end up selling more than 100 million records, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and become America's answer to the British Invasion? As Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey), one of the original Four Seasons says, "You ask four guys, you get four different versions."

Book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice deserve much of the credit for Jersey Boys' success. The musical strives, and quite successfully, to be more than just a cheap imitation or recreation of the Four Seasons' glory years. Many a jukebox musical has graced the Great White Way, however, it is the strength and structure of their book which has kept audiences coming back and led it to win the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Brickman and Elice's book doesn't attempt to gloss over the original foursome's breakup, relationship with the mafia or their philandering nature. Even more astutely, it presents the Four Seasons' story in a documentary style with each of the four main characters, Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley), DeVito, Nick Massi (Keith Hines) and Frankie Valli (Aaron De Jesus), equally telling the story. Their observations are brutally funny, objective and explore the groups numerous starts and stops before exploding onto the scene with 1962's "Sherry."

The foursome at the heart of this production - Dailey, De Jesus, Hines and Seeley - are stellar. Together they master Sergio Trujillo's crisp choreography and Des McAnuff's fast-paced direction that takes us from Belgum, New Jersey to the Ed Sullivan Show stage and beyond.

As Valli, De Jesus has as magnetism that radiates when the story enters its final stretch, or "Winter" as Michael Clark's pop-art projection design alerts us. This is the moment where Valli becomes his own man, stepping forward to be the group's front man while trying to maintain order at home. De Jesus' Valli slowly, but steadily, matures before our eyes. He finally breaks out with the smash "Can't Take My Eyes off You" which stopped the show for a sustained two-minute applause.

Dailey possesses equal parts charisma and bombastic personality necessary to succeed as the group's bad-boy founder DeVito. DeVito's self-described mentor relationship with Valli and persistence to leave the old neighborhood fuel the group's rise before his self-destructive nature almost proves fatal. It's hard to hate DeVito which is a credit to Dailey's acting ability and Brickman and Elice's book.

Seeley may look a bit young to play Gaudio, however he possess the right amount of confidence and swagger to triumph as the group's song-writing and producing prodigy. We never doubt that this was the same musician who wrote "Short Shorts" at 15 and had the foresight to elevate Valli to lead singer. He also has a deft matter-of-fact sense of humor that generates big laughs and endears us to him when the group hits the rocks as a result of DeVito.

Hines has the unenviable position playing the group's self-described Ringo. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop him from capturing Massi's obscure and eccentric personality. Hines is slow to warm up, though once he does, we learn of the group's seedier behavior with Jersey Boys best line, "You sell 100 million records, see how you handle it."

Other standouts include Thomas Fiscella as mobster-fixer Gyp DeCarlo and Barry Anderson as flamboyant producer Bob Crewe. Anderson doesn't overdo it as Crewe, instead, smartly showcasing the mentoring relationship the devoted producer had with the foursome. Ten musicians are touring with this production and rock the National Theatre, enhancing this superb production. Having seen the show twice before, including with the original Broadway cast, the sight of the horn section in Act II is still thrilling.

Klara Zieglerova industrial set design creates the production's gritty feel. Even if you've never visited New Jersey, her design makes it clear why they wanted "out." Jess Goldstein lovingly recreates the Four Seasons original costumes, channeling their clean-cut, working guy persona essential to the group's image.

Finally, the only flaw with the production has become a problem that seems to be plaguing touring productions in DC lately, the sound design. Steven Canyon Kennedy's design was off in the shows first ten minutes then hit or miss for half of Act II, making it hard to hear dialogue. A similar issue was had when Matilda played the Kennedy Center last December.

Sound design for a touring production is always a challenge because of the constantly changing nature of the show's venue, and while we hope this will improve during Jersey Boys three week run at the National, there's no excuse for it. Still, don't let this stop you from seeing an otherwise, excellent tour.

"Everybody remembers it how they need to," DeVito says at the show's finale. Yes, they do, and you'll remember having a great time with this production.

Runtime: Two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Lottery Info: A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of best available tickets at $25 each -cash only -will be held at the theater two hours before each performance. This is a great option for cash-strapped theatergoers wanting to see the show.

Jersey Boys runs thru April 24th at the National Theatre - 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and more information, please click here.

Photo: Keith Hines, Aaron De Jesus, Drew Seeley, and Matthew Dailey. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.



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From This Author Benjamin Tomchik