Alive with vibrant color and sound, “Jersey Boys” is a musical spanning the ‘60s and ‘70s rise and fall of rock band The Four Seasons. Throughout the three-hour show the band struggles with fame, relationships, band politics and piles of soggy towels lazily tossed on hotel room floors.
Each quarter of the show is narrated by a different member of the band’s original lineup; Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan) starts the show by rattling on about bowling alley gigs in a seedy New Jersey neighborhood and Frankie Valli (Jonny Wexler) closes it out by describing the group’s relationship with international fame.
While performing with friend Nick Massi (Johnathan Cable) in a small New Jersey bar, DeVito called Valli—then called Frankie Castelluccio—to the stage for the first time. This 15-year-old kid had an incredible voice, and with an insistent wave beckoning to the stage and a microphone DeVito had started a band.
After a brief stint in prison DeVito reunites the group, making Valli front man and lead singer. Soon after they recruit singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Eric Chambliss) and sign a contract with Bob Crewe (Wade Dooley). Their excitement fizzles fast, however, as Crewe keeps them in background vocals. He argues that they have no distinguishable sound or image.
All of this changes with the release of “Sherry.” An instant hit with a distinct sound that demonstrated Valli’s astounding vocal dexterity and Gaudio’s songwriting ability, “Sherry” was only the first of three subsequent chart-topping songs—“Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man” followed soon afterward. The group settled into their success, touring first in the states, then around the world.
But, this didn’t last long. A lone shark approaches the band and informs them that DeVito has $150,000 in gambling debt and almost half a million dollars in unpaid taxes. This results in DeVito subsequent relocation and house arrest in Las Vegas. Massi leaves the group and Gaudio suggests a clean break from DeVito and his baggage. But Valli, feeling a sense of allegiance and loyalty to DeVito for mentoring him and providing him with opportunities, takes on all of his debt.
Working down DeVito’s debt takes Gaudio and Valli some time. Gaudio becomes a producer, and Valli becomes the frontman of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. They finally dig themselves out of their hole with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The show ends with the original Four Season’s performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Each member of The Four Seasons has their struggles, displaying the vulnerability and humanity of music idols—a side of celebrities often not seen or considered. Struggles with debt, divorce, family relationships and death are touched on throughout the show.
The narration by each of The Four Seasons provides the audience with a chance to get to know each member as if they had met in person, lending insight to the character and telling the story from all angles. DeVito, who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, speaks with a nonchalance and a thick Jersey accent that often conveys an utter lack of consideration for his bandmates. Being just a teenager when accepted into the group, Gaudio is expressive, excited and always thinking about what’s coming next. Massi, the silent and somber bassist, has a few humorous moments; however, he spends his time reflecting on the long-time deterioration of the group as the pressures of fame become overwhelming. Finally, Valli recounts the aftermath of their break-up—replacing Massi and DeVito, Gaudio stepping out of the spotlight to become a producer and the formation of Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons.
This musical captures the vocal magic of Broadway with a sample of The Four Seasons’ original classics like “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” “Big Man in Town,” and “Rag Doll.” The music is infectious and smile-inducing and there were moments where I wanted to stand up and belt out those classic lyrics.
Each actor gives a solid performance, but the music is where this show really shines. Wexler’s vocal performance is reminiscent of the real Valli’s voice. He provides an authentic manifestation of the originality that took America by storm when “Sherry” was first released.
Performed by an adept cast of actors and singers, Jersey Boys provides excellent context for the music of a classic American band in an entertaining, well-executed show that was a pleasure to see.
Performances are at DeVos Performance Hall and run through Dec. 2. Please note that this is not a family musical. Tickets start at $42, click here to purchase or learn more about the show.
*Photos by Joan Marcus. Main Photo: “Jersey Boys” (l to r) Corey Greenan, Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler and Jonathan Cable.