Jersey Boys In Boston: Pop Music, Pop Art and Oh Yeah, Plenty Of Pop

Jersey and Boston have a lot in common … proud, territorial, a wee bit arrogant and certainly not the least bit intimidated by the big cheeses in the Big Apple.  Broadway may have launched “Jersey Boys”, but when it swings into the Hub, it’s ours!  It’s built just like the songs it celebrates … catchy, clever, and heartfelt.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, though compelling, isn’t exactly fresh dramatic ground.  We kinda know the drill from the git go …  four hard scrabble guys out gunning for the fame and fortune that’s, to quote their famous lyrics, so close and yet so far.  They had talent, drive, and just enough ego to keep them going when the power brokers in the music business wanted to write them off.  Gambling, booze, infidelity all took their toll, but in the end it was the songs that mattered, and these guys cranked out a stunning collection of hits.

“Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, all massive hits, all driven by a little guy with a giant vocal range.  But are these the ingredients for great musical theatre?  Yes and no.

There’s no question that “Jersey Boys” is a well oiled machine.  The production values are way up there, and this national tour edition doesn’t skimp on a single one.  The two-level set comes complete with cat walk and chain link fence.  Video monitors display pop art drawings straight out of a graphic novel.  There are enough costume changes to make up a Smithsonian fashion exhibit.  Plus a nimble cast capable of playing multiple characters and instruments too!  It’s all choreographed to work at a breakneck pace, and you’ll marvel at the non-stop scene changes … but you’ll also feel, at times, like you’re watching an assembly line at work.

I like precision, but I also like a healthy dose of unpredictability.  Plus, a little grit never did a slick production any harm.  “Jersey Boys” can get ahead of itself, and there are times when director Des McAnuff should have let things breathe.  The audience deserves the chance to savor a moment now and then.

So, let’s talk about the boys!  Emerson College alum Joseph Leo Bwarie is Frankie.  He’s a unique talent portraying a unique talent.  Bwarie’s singing is jawdroppingly good.  His acting, pretty darn solid too.  He plays Frankie like a smoldering fire, never quite bursting into flames.  At times I felt he held back a little too much.  Frankie’s a down to earth guy, but you’ve got to let him soar now and then.  Bwarie also has a bit of a Jon Lovitz vibe that’s quirky and a bit subversive.  At one point during a dramatic scene I almost expected him to yell out “Acting” like Master Thespian on SNL.

Matt Bailey as Four Seasons bad boy Tommy DeVito is pitch perfect as the loud mouth schemer who knows Frankie is his ticket out of the neighborhood.  Bailey doesn’t try to soften Tommy, we get him warts and all.  Steve Gouveia is Nick Massi, the group’s bass player.  He’s the lunch pail musician with an ear for harmony.  He doesn’t have the looks or voice to be the front man, but he has the work ethic to hold everything together.

That brings us to Quinn VanAntwerp as Bob Gaudio, the guy who wrote the songs.  He’s actually the standout of this fab four.  Tall, rosy cheeked, and brimming with intelligence, VanAntwerp makes his character more than just a member of “The Four Seasons” … he’s a force to be reckoned with on his own terms.  Unlike Bwarie, VanAntwerp doesn’t seem to be locked into a tight character box.  He’s out there selling it, and reminding us this is a musical, not a bio pic.

It’s unfortunate that there are no strong female roles in “Jersey Boys” … but I wanted to give a shout out to Candi Boyd, Alayna Gallo, Denise Payne and Kara Tremel.  These four actresses cycle in and out in a variety of roles including wives, girlfriends, hookers and singers.  Their roles may be sketchy, but their performances are full blooded.

“Jersey Boys” is a Tony Award winning production for many reasons, but first and foremost is its determination to deliver on its promises.  If you’re a fan of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons you’re going to walk away from this show a bigger fan.  You don’t get cheated on numbers like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “Working My Way Back To You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” … you get beautifully orchestrated pop music jewels in all their glory.  If that sounds like the ticket for you, then you’ve found your show.

“Jersey Boys” is playing at Boston’s Colonial Theatre through January 30.  This is not a show for small children or those sensitive to salty language … Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons may have sung like angels … but they didn’t talk like them!


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