Seeing Friday night's performance of Jersey Boys at the Winspear Opera House presented by the AT&T Performing Arts Center was like a big dose of déjà vu, and it's not just the myriad of familiar, chart-topping hits that make up the score.
The music industry-based storyline and use of a screen to simulate bandstand-style shows appeared in last month's offering of Memphis. In keeping with a cluster of recent jukebox musicals where everyone in the audience can sing many of the songs, the performance is somewhat similar to Mamma Mia! (which closed recently at the Music Hall at Fair Park) and the newly-released film musical Rock of Ages.
But Jersey Boys, the Tony Award winner for Best Musical in 2006, directed by Des McAnuff and closing out the Lexus Broadway Season, blows them all out of the water.
Receiving and quite deserving of the rave reviews around the world, Jersey Boys divulges the tumultuous path of The Four Seasons. The music, of course, is phenomenal; one doesn't become a Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame legend by merely having a great smile.The subtle genius of the production, however, comes from the book. Instead of going the traditional route of a solidly linear storyline where the action solely conveys the plot, writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice opt for using point-of-view and making the fourth wall a little more transparent.
Each of the four main characters narrates a section, all of which are named after (appropriately) the seasons, and gives his perspective on the events. And it's not just a typical monologue where the performer stares at the exit sign in the back and delivers his lines. They each intimately address the audience, inviting the crowd to join them on the journey through the smoky lounges of Jersey to major recording studios to performing in front of cameras for a national audience.
The story progression and mood in each section also seem to match the personality and temperament of the one narrating. Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytick) spends the first section "Spring" telling how he and other small-time criminals in his Newark neighborhood formed a band and then discovered Frankie Castellucio (Brad Weinstock), who would change his last name to Valli. Eventually, it comes down to Frankie, Tommy, and Nick Massi (Brandon Andrus). The action moves as quick and precise as Tommy's tendency to flit from one trouble spot to the next; don't blink or you'll miss something.
Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus) picks up the story for the second part "Summer," as the trio checks him out for their fourth member. While the action moves pretty quickly during the group's struggle to find identity, the subsequent hits which shoot them to stardom then the bombshell of Tommy's debt that ends the act, Bob's calmer, methodical thought process shows through, creating an even feel compared to the previous section.
"Fall" opens the second act narrated by the one who was always in the background but always watching, observant—Nick Massi. In revealing some of the other details which led to the group's separation (the enormity of Tommy's debt and strained romances), Andrus speaks with less optimism in his lower, but monotone, voice which contributed the lower musical range in the harmonious quartet. By the end of his section, the band is left with Bob and Frankie.
The latter and star of the group takes over for the final section, "Winter." Although the scars of the journey weakened his spirit, his fresh-faced buoyancy from the beginning still tries to shine through as he shares how he and Bob find replacement members, soar to the top once more, and finally pay off Tommy's debt. The death of his daughter, though, just adds to the deep-set wounds.
The musical ends with the original Four Seasons being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and performing together on stage. Each gets his time to do a "Where Are They Now?" segment (like they do in movies with subtitles) and reflect on the impact and greatness of the band.
It's a greatness that pours through each cast member, regardless of the size of his or her role. Weinstock hits Frankie's signature falsetto perfectly, and his voice combined with the pipes of Andrus, Foytik and Kappus provide the beautiful blend which made the music popular. The rest of the cast members seamlessly transition between their multiples roles; if you didn't read the program, you might not even notice that they each play three or more parts.
Sergio Trujillo's choreography, while minimal (the show is about a band, after all), adds just enough pizzazz to make it more interesting, but not so much that it takes away from the vocals.
Book, music, and casting aside, the biggest success of the musical is its ability to take the audience back to when each first heard that unforgettable voice and irresistible tunes. Check out Jersey Boys and see which song is your favorite. Hint: it's probably the one you'll sing the loudest.