BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS at National Theatre
New Jersey is known for a lot of things - the Shore, disco fries, the Turnpike, and Bruce Springsteen (just to name a few). Jersey Boys takes us back to the New Jersey of the 50's and 60's. Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan) and his brother, Nick DeVito (Andrés Acosta), are looking for a singer and they find Frankie (Jon Hacker). Tommy takes Frankie under his wing to teach him about music and girls. The band goes through several name changes and members. Eventually, they find Bob Gaudio (Eric Chambliss), a budding songwriter, and bassist Nick Massi (Michael Milton). Finally, they settle on becoming the Four Seasons. The band faces heartaches, money problems, and much more. Jersey Boys, directed by Des McAnuff, is a typical, fast paced jukebox musical full of popular songs, but the storyline doesn't hit the right notes.
The song book, music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, of Jersey Boys is incredibly long even though some songs have been left out such as "Candy Girl" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." The best numbers are the Four Seasons biggest hits, "Cry for Me," "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." Hacker's falsetto is on point with Frankie's for a large part of the show. However, there are moments in which Hacker struggles with his falsetto in the second act. It's no easy feat to have to sing like Frankie Valli for almost three hours. Greenan, Milton, and Chambliss are talented singers as well and their voices harmonize beautifully. There is one song featured in Jersey Boys which isn't sung by the Four Seasons. The Angels (played by Ashley Bruce, Amy Weaver, and Connor Lyon), who went on tour with the Four Seasons, sing their hit, "My Boyfriend's Back." Bruce, Weaver, and Lyon nail the song. It is like you are listening to a recording of the actual Angels.
The cast is always in sync whether its with the tight choreography, harmonizing, or coordinating scene changes. Jersey Boys wouldn't be much of a show without its supporting cast. Many of them juggle multiple roles with ease. With the help of costumes, designed by Jess Goldstein and wigs, designed by Charles G. LaPointe, you wouldn't even know that it was the same person who had been on stage before. Overall, it isn't the cast nor the production quality which holds Jersey Boys back, it is how the story is told.
Jersey Boys isn't told from one point of view. Tommy, Frankie, Bob, and Nick all take turns being narrators. While this might seem like it would prevent bias, it doesn't. It makes you not sure who is the reliable narrator. Unfortunately, not everyone from the band was involved in the production. The book, written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, doesn't go into much detail about what life was like for Frankie, Tommy, Bob, and Nick outside of their music and the band. You want to know more about Frankie's relationship with his wife, Mary and his daughters. You want to know the real reason why Nick was always drinking. You want to know why Tommy was always partying and couldn't stop spending money. You want to know Bob's motivations for doing the "contract" handshake with Frankie. Besides not really getting to know the Four Seasons outside of their music, Jersey Boys portrays the women in the story as objects of affection, or mothers. None of them are given a chance to become an integral part of the story.
If you enjoy the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and would like a concert-like experience, then Jersey Boys is definitely for you. However, if you go in expecting a musical with a complex storyline paired with great music, this show probably isn't for you.
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
JERSEY BOYS plays at National Theatre (1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004) through January 5, 2020. Tickets can be purchased online.