Reviewed by Judy Richter
"Jersey Boys," winner of four 2006 Tony Awards, including best musical, has begun its national tour in San Francisco even while it continues to play on Broadway. That's not surprising, given the enthusiastic response to the show during its opening night at the Curran Theatre. Essentially, it's the story of the Four Seasons, a popular '60s group that gave us a series of hit songs that still set the feet to tapping and the voice to humming. In fact, it's subtitled "The Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons."
More than just a nostalgic musical revue, or jukebox musical, "Jersey Boys" tells an interesting story and develops engaging characters because Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice based their book on actual people who were willing to have their stories told with a minimum of varnish. The Four Seasons were four guys from New Jersey who began singing on a street corner. The personnel and group name changed over the years, but at the core of the group were Tommy DeVito (Deven May), Nick Massi (Michael Ingersoll), Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and Frankie Valli (Christopher Kale Jones). Tommy's brother, Nick, (Miles Aubrey), was part of the group at first, but he spent too much time in jail. Tommy, who managed the group, did a stretch or two himself at first but stayed out of jail thereafter. Bob was its composer (and the show's), and Frankie was its lead singer, famed for his soaring falsetto. Bob Crewe (John Altieri) was the studio manager who became their producer and who is credited for the show's lyrics, but songs with music and lyrics by others are featured, too. Each of the four principals relates a section of the story, each with a slightly different take on what happened and why.
The story unfolds chronologically, so the first 40 minutes or so is devoted to introducing the principals and hearing them sing songs by Gaudio and others, such as "Silhouettes," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Earth Angel." Finally, the 15th song, "Sherry," starts a string of huge hits, including "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man." By then the audience is applauding and cheering. During intermission, I heard many people talking about what was going on in their lives when they first sang along with those songs on the radio. The second act, which finds some things going sour with the group, still produces such winners as "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," which received a standing ovation, "Working My Way Back to You," "Rag Doll," and "Who Loves You," the finale.
Directed by Des McAnuff with musical direction by Ron Melrose (Andrew Wilder conducts) and choreography by Sergio Trujillo, the cast is terrific. The leads sing well individually and together, creating that distinctive Four Seasons sound. They're also good actors, helping to propel the story.Most noteworthy are Bergen as Gaudio and Jones as Valli. Most other cast members play multiple roles, making each one distinct.
The set by Klara Zieglerova has two levels of scaffolding and chain-link fencing flanked by stairs and light towers. Set pieces slide or fly in, and Michael Clark's cartoon-like projections add to the atmosphere, along with Howell Binkley's lighting and Steve Canyon Kennedy's sound. Jess Goldstein's costumes reflect changing styles through the years.
"Jersey Boys" is a big treat musically and dramatically, and it evokes memories of a younger time.