'Jersey Boys' Entertains With Genuine Charisma And Charm
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 23:02
Oh, what a night it was when the curtain opened on Jersey Boys. Though this BC2Boston event was rescheduled to Friday after the blizzard, BC students and Boston theatergoers alike were thoroughly entertained by this weekend’s performance of the show.
Jersey Boys is not just another musical—it’s got charisma, sequin-lined lapel suits, ’60s music and Jersey accents. It fits into the genre of a jukebox musical, as if those popular tunes change with a director quickly pressing buttons. It’s no kids’ musical either, its crude jokes and swearing marketing it towards a more mature crowd. This musical biography of the group The Four Seasons appeals not only to a nostalgic older crowd who can recite each song’s every word but also to the 20-something person who has experienced the awkwardness of losing one’s virginity or struggling to do what they love but also pay the bills.
Jersey is in vogue, as Jersey Shore and Housewives have ensured, but this slice of Jersey comes in the form of a hilarious narrative of one band’s rise to the top. The Jersey accents alone activate the crowd’s laughter. Familiar town names and stereotypes fill the theater with ooing onlookers recognizing bits of the Jersey culture. The Italian mother who curses “Stronzo” under her breath says it all. One of the funniest scenes occurs in the car with Frankie and Tommy and Tommy’s friend. Tommy and his friend have a heated fight about which “field” they were headed for, making fun of Jersey’s town names that often have some variation of valley, field, ridge, wood, or park, among others. “Ya Stupid asshole” is repeated so many times in this one scene before Tommy feigns shooting and killing his friend that the crowd roars with laughter. Jersey Boys is obnoxiously and inappropriately funny.
The plot follows the real story of the group that evolved from “The Four Lovers” to The Four Seasons” The clever scene of them staring up at a huge neon sign that reads, “Our sons” which when adjusted reads the true name of the bowling alley “The Four Seasons” leaves a band member yelling, “It’s a sign.” Funny one-liners like this keep the musical moving and feeling more like a long concert with a story than a Broadway show.
There’s the gang leader and guitarist Tommy DeVito, his closest pal and bassist Nick Massi, and then the fantastic falsetto dream that is Frankie Valli, whose music and lyrics become chart toppers with the help of the songwriter Bob Gaudio. It is reminiscent of other backstage stories, but it definitely feels less real. The humor is great but often detracts from scenes that might otherwise be more serious. Frankie’s scenes with his wife and daughter often feel artificial. The story is not as moving as it could be through deaths and tragedies but its strength comes with the moral lesson of it all: loyalty.
When Tommy accrues a debt larger than $150,000, Frankie chooses to pick up this check, working his ass off for the guy who started the group. Tommy often gave Frankie the short end of the stick, hitting on his girl or not paying him an equal share from the beginning, but Frankie’s loyalty to the guy that discovered him is touching and admirable.
You can’t help but love Frankie for his big heart and booming vocals. The main singer receives the loudest cheers each time, justifiably as his falsetto is simply beautiful. Holding out long notes and singing as if only to you, his soloes are enough to melt off any remnants of Nemo.
The organization of the play is brilliant. It follows the four original members of The Four Seasons and accordingly it is broken up into four acts, an act for each season and told in each of the four band members’ perspectives. Three large TV screens in the background announce each new act: spring, summer, fall, and winter. They also offer cartoon images that explain a scene or a song. The set design is extremely clever because of these explanatory TV screens and for quick set changes of tables, chairs, microphones, benches that slide on and off set, some by characters and some that are mechanically slid on stage. A wall of chain linked fence glides up and down as a main backdrop to the play that symbolizes prison, being trapped, and the over-crowdedness of Jersey.
One of the best scenes is memorable not for the song they sing but for the stage direction that had their backs facing the audience as they sang to an invisible audience that was the back stage wall. The brilliant angle played very well into the story of the play, a “backstage look” at a band’s triumphs and follies.
The lighting deserves mention for subtle yet smart representation. A camera flash, for example, dramatically lit an unusually large portion of the stage before the lights went black to transition into a different scene. Spotlights to certain characters illuminate their personal stories while the rest of the group is barely lit and unmoving. Lights were not over the top but added drama where necessary.
Jersey Boys is a must see musical that doesn’t feel like a musical. It is definitely for everyone; even those who don’t like musicals are bound to enjoy this jukebox hit. Littered with Jerseyisms and those thick accents, it is a constant laugh embellished with a great story and awesome staging. The Broadway hit is in Boston in the Colonial Theater until March 3.