Fort Worth — From the seats, it’s crystal clear why the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys—still going strong in its ninth unbroken year on Broadway—is the leader of the pack when it comes to “jukebox” musicals. This is the second national touring company for the musical (yet another cast has a standing gig in Las Vegas), and the show, presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth, will run at Bass Performance Hall through June 15. It’s the first time the tour has been to Cowtown, after three stops in Dallas over the years. What’s more, it’s your last chance to see the show before the movie version opens later this month.
First, of course, the songs of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons are simply irresistible. Including “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Stay” and many more, they serve up a distinctly flavored slice of the 1960s: the BBI (Before British Invasion) meld of East Coast (and frequently Italian) white boys with the “black” Detroit sound that was becoming Motown. No politics here, no big ideas. This songbook is all about girls—meeting them, romancing them, losing them, getting them back—all sold by the delicious uber-tenor of Valli and the close-as-a-shave harmonies of the boys in the band. Most of the group’s hit songs were written by composer Bob Gaudio and lyricist Bob Crewe—they’re both listed in the credits and played as characters in the show—who were instrumental in developing Jersey Boys.
But beyond the music, the second reason to listen and rejoice is the quick and clever script from Marshall Brickman (co-author of Annie Hall and Manhattan) and Rick Elice (Peter and the Starcatcher)—which never gives the feeling that it’s just there to move us on to the next song. Yes, there’s a bit of Rocky and The Godfather in the telling (Thomas Fiscella is funny as favor-dispensing gangster “Gyp” DeCarlo), but Brickman and Elice tease and tweak the clichés for fun and profit. The script has plenty of big, genuine laughs, and terrifically sharp portraits of the four band members: Valli (Hayden Milanes), the angel-voiced boy who becomes a star; Tommy DeVito (Nicolas Dromard), the Jersey musician, petty crook and all-around player who knows he has a “phenom” on his hands; deep-voiced Nick Massi (Adam Zelasko), whose love for family and the old neighborhood may trump everything; and laid-back Gaudio (Quinn VanAntwerp), whose genius for songwriting and business keeps the group going long after others fizzle and fade.
Wisely, Brickman and Elice make the long, complicated history between these four homeboys part of the drama onstage. Each of them narrates a part of the story, and has their own “say” about how things went down. Their competing, overlapping memories and “versions” feel true and touching.
No voice ever will quite capture Frankie Valli’s unique falsetto, but Milanes has the singing chops to be pretty darn convincing in the role. He can flash a cute smile (though he might want to do it more often) and hit the high notes all night long. Strong, sure harmonies from three other great voices (VanAntwerp, Dromard, Zelasko) make the illusion pretty hard to resist. Add sharkskin suits and tight dance moves (from choreographer Sergio Trujillo of Memphis, Hands on a Hardbody and others) and this quartet isn’t just a piece of history—they’re really bringing it, right now, in the moment.
With Des McAnuff’s original direction, the show moves along briskly on a multi-level set of metal scaffolding and stairs designed by Klara Zieglerova. Michael Clark’s Roy Lichtenstein-inspired projections (complete with bubble captions) bring the pop colors of the time into the mix. In a smart use of vintage video, old films of Valli and the guys are projected at the start of several numbers. Old and new sing together for a while; then the video fades to let the onstage group take it home.
In addition to creating a string of pop hits for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Gaudio and Crewe (played by Barry Anderson), both went on to become well-known producers for other stars. In Jersey Boys, the two Bobs are the smartest guys in the room about the business they’re in, and the actors playing them have a back-and-forth banter that livens up several non-singing moments. And who couldn’t like a show that tucks quotes from Shakespeare, Ed Sullivan and poet T.S. Eliot into a story about a bunch of kids from New Jersey?
A Very Young Person in the audience was shocked to be told that the “mature” citizens around her were the teenagers of the 1950s and 1960s—minus the pony tails, Brylcreem and “short shorts”—but once she saw a few of them dancing in their seats, she could see it. This Jersey Boys will take you back, whether you’re old enough to be nostalgic, or young enough to be finding these songs for the very first time.