If you’re a fan of or familiar with the music of 1960s pop-rock group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it shouldn’t surprise you that a jukebox musical based on its legacy and back story would hit a few high notes. But in the case of the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys,” those highs are not purely melodic.
The touring Broadway musical version of “Jersey Boys,” which opened at the Lexington Opera House Thursday night, provided a consistently entertaining and oftentimes enthralling theatrical experience thanks to a frenetic pace, plenty of humor, solid acting and performers more than capable of replicating the group’s on-stage charm and unforgettable hits.
While the initial appeal of “Jersey Boys” for many people may be the nostalgic trip or transportive thrill of hearing so many Four Seasons classics performed live, the show was almost equally powered by the seedy and largely untold details of its “Behind The Music”-esque backstory (featuring more than a few Jersey-inflected F-bombs) and the way it is presented by its likable, charismatic leads.
With each Four Seasons member recounting their respective versions of different points in the band’s career, you have Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan), who oftentimes seemed to be channeling Paulie Gualtieri from “The Sopranos,” not-so-humbly explaining how he helped form the group and expose audiences to the angelic voice of Frankie Valli. Bob Gaudio (Tommasco Antico) was the reserved, songwriting wunderkind and expounded on the group’s rise to the top of the charts on hits like “Sherrie,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Nick Massi (Chris Stevens) served as comic relief throughout the production and took the audience behind the curtain to expose much of the band’s professional turmoil that led to the group dissolving. And Frankie Valli (Jonny Wexler) recalled stepping up as a frontman while his personal life was in shambles.
In addition the the production’s narrative structure keeping the audience on its toes, the show’s breakneck pace, especially chronicling the band’s rise in Act I, deftly dipped in-and-out of musical numbers, narration and dialogue while being anchored by a story that allowed audiences to enjoy the music while emotionally investing in the characters.
While the show was not without the slightest of technical hiccups (a missed spotlight cue here and there, and some sound mixing that seemed to drown out the Valli vocal parts on the orchestra level), both the small supporting cast (who took on multiple acting, dancing and singing roles) and the set design only enhanced the show’s entertainment value. This included bi-level scaffolding with a screen on the second level that helped invoke the show’s era, projecting pop art, Jersey landscapes and a pretty cool trick of having a television camera on stage project the performers in black and white to replicate breakout performances on “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
But the combination of a well-known Four Seasons track and this cast’s exceptional execution in both vocal harmonies and choreography was when “Jersey Boys” fired on all cylinders. After a string of hits that ended with “Walk Like a Man” and a dramatic lead-up to the then-unconventional hit single “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” you might have been convinced that the actual Four Seasons were on stage based on the crowd singing along, clapping and the uproarious applause. While group vocal and acting chemistry was spot-on, a Four Seasons musical lives and dies by its Frankie Valli. Luckily, this production found a more than capable one in Wexler, who consistently delivered both in recreating Valli’s otherworldly range while showing the depths and struggles of Valli himself, who grew from a boy to a man in the spotlight but not without experiencing hard times and tragedy on the way to stardom.
As the original Four Seasons reunited to close with the 1975 hit song “Who Loves You?”, the crowd once again came alive in a way that suggested the love for this legendary group’s catalog, the allure of the “Jersey Boys” story, or maybe a little bit of both, has obviously never left.