Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Kennedy Center

Jersey Boys is a production that offers that rare combination so often hard to find: “intelligent escapism”. Do not miss it.

By: Jun. 19, 2022
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Review: JERSEY BOYS at the Kennedy Center
L-R Eric Chambliss, Jon Hacker, Devon Goffman, Matt Faucher
and the Company of Jersey Boys.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

A group of streetwise guys from Jersey sing about the everyday battles of daily life that so many people can relate to in the emotionally direct and hard -hitting smash hit tour of Jersey Boys now playing at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. Romance, heartache, family ties, financial woes and fractious friendships are all explored in the surging, driving beats of the catchy songs (and romantic ballads) that comprise the catalogue of the song chart hit-making group, "The Four Seasons" formed in 1960 in Newark, New Jersey (which has been known at times as "Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons" since 1970----as well as by many other names, but you will have to see the show to learn about that!)

The hard-working ethos and urban streetwise brotherhood of neighborhood guys are portrayed in the real-life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which has obviously struck a universal chord of mass appeal in this very well-constructed Broadway smash hit. The popularity seems to stem from a groundswell of appreciation for a story that does not try to be anything it is not ---namely, the songs and story are quite simply a story of survival when the going gets tough. The music by the original cast member Bob Gaudio carries the day in songs like "Beggin'", "Let's Hang On (To What We Got)" and "Working My Way Back to You" and the lyrics by Bob Crewe accentuate survival against all odds.

The demographic the night I attended skewed older, and I wish that more of the younger generation was aware of the classic pop sound and popularity of this unique and influential group (other groups and artists have covered their songs). Over thirty songs by Gaudio and Crewe are orchestrated beautifully by Steve Orich and thrillingly convey why this is one of the most successful groups in modern music history. Music Director Noah Turner directs a group of ace musicians.

Director Des McAnuff uses the musical numbers as underscoring for the interesting and tumultuous life history of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is an ingenious distillation of pivotal events from the lives of the main characters as a group and as individuals with their own joys and personal demons. In Act Two, the show becomes more book-driven, and it plays without a hitch. Like the book of the Emilio and Gloria Estefan's On Your Feet! this musical is driven by an intelligent and well-honed narrative that propels the show and adds emotional heft to the musical numbers. Easy sentiment is eschewed for honest writing that portrays the pitfalls of the road, the vagaries of friendship, and the allure of fame. Subject matter that is tragic such as death in "Fallen Angel" is managed with sensitive maturity.

Choreography by Sergio Trujillo is galvanizing in the upbeat hit song "Sherry", the highly original "Big Girls Don't Cry" and the adrenaline-fueled ode to being proud of who you are entitled "Walk Like a Man". The surging, energized spirit of "Walk Like a Man" was a highlight as syncopated, sharp, assured movements were in complete synchronization as the singing group wore sparkling gold jackets (Pitch-perfect costume design by Jess Goldstein) and proudly sang their hearts out.

Justin Albinder (filling in for Jon Hacker as Frankie Valli the evening I attended) was Valli personified to the max. Mr. Albinder captured the entire range of emotions from the new member of the singing group to the confident singer and businessperson of the second act. Mr. Albinder sang with pathos in the tender "My Mother's Eyes", "I'm in the Mood for Love" and the heartbreaking "Fallen Angel". Albinder's lower register eased into the full spectrum of his falsetto with ease in most cases. The ear-catching and yearning pull of "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" scored with Mr. Albinder's soulful singing and immaculate staging by Director McAnuff ----which included a brass section playing with rousing resonance from the top tier of the set.

Matt Faucher as the taciturn Nick Massi, Devon Goffman as the rebellious Tommy DeVito and Eric Chambliss as composer Bob Gaudio all perform with authenticity and natural ease. Vocals and acting were a notch above with Goffman a standout in "Earth Angel" and Chambliss a standout in the innocence-lost terrain of the nostalgic "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)". Mr. Faucher had an amazing deadpan delivery with subtle comic timing in his numerous scenes.

Jared Chinnock, Amy Coelho, Katie Goffman, Antonio King, Connor Lyon, Kevin Patrick Martin, and Alec Michael Ryan added textured acting in supporting parts. Sean McGee's portrayal of lyricist Bob Crewe was attention -grabbing.

Set Design by Klara Zieglerova is a marvel of sleek steel grids, platforms, and stairs. The upper tier/platform adds visual depth to the production as it is utilized for fascinating and relevant "Roy Lichtenstein-like" colorful pop/comic-like panels to add emphasis to the dramatic or lighter moments; television clips from concerts are also presented (Projection Design by Michael Clark). A beautifully lit industrial view of the cityscape is also viewed (lighting designer Howell Binkley-- who endows the entire show with evocative shafts of light).

The penultimate song "Who Loves You?" was a veritable knockout ensemble number as the crooning and the instrumentals overlapped with the pulsating vocal refrains of "Who loves you pretty baby? Who's gonna help you through the night? Who loves you, pretty mama? Who's always there to make it?". These vocals knocked one out of the rafters as the extremely confident, sassy choreography of Mr. Trujillo was placed into the mix.

An interesting coda to the production occurred as the 30 millionth audience member was called up to the stage for a photo op and applause.

A well-deserved encore ensued, and the crowd indeed "went wild" ---as the early press proclaimed. This show's message of survival has staying power. Through PC, a pandemic, challenging times, and good times ----Jersey Boys is a production that offers that rare combination so often hard to find: "intelligent escapism". Do not miss it.

Running Time: Two Hours and 30 minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission

Jersey Boys runs through June 26th, 2022 at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center located at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20566.


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