Jersey Boys, the 2005 Broadway smash hit and preeminent “jukebox musical”, is now bringing its signature blend of tough guy brashness and doo-wop dazzle to the National Theatre for a brief run through April 24th. It is just as showstopping, toe tapping, and bubblegum pop-tastic as one might imagine for a show that garnered four Tonys in 2006, including for Best Musical.
For the few uninitiated, Jersey Boys is the stylized (but, by all accounts, accurate) tale of how Francesco Castelluccio and his Garden State gang transformed into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, skyrocketing to the top of American pop music. With a book by Marshall Brickman (who co-wrote Annie Hall) and Rick Elice (who penned the 2012 Tony darling Peter and the Starcatcher), and music by Bob Gaudio, one of the real life original Four Seasons, Jersey Boys was, like its subject, on a path to greatness from the start.
The four Jersey Boys themselves – Frankie (Aaron De Jesus), Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey), Nick Massi (Keith Hines), and Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley) act as sometime emcees in the show who lead the audience through their own individual perspectives on “what happened”. But the story is wisely told mainly through the Four Season’s seemingly never ending string of hits.
And what hits they are: “Sherry”,”Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” “My Eyes Adored You,” “C’mon Marianne,” and, perhaps most memorably, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” These tunes, beyond being some of the most iconic pop songs of the 20th century, are given a revitalizing treatment by the wonderful cast. The final all-company number is a true musical theatre showstopper that lifted the audience to its collective feet.
Aaron de Jesus plays Frankie. He comes to the role after playing Joey in the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys for three years prior to the current tour. De Jesus possesses both the small stature and the huge voice that the role of Frankie demands, and he blew the crowd away with his laser clear, uber falsetto vocal acrobatics. De Jesus also has a strong command of the emotional peaks and valleys that Frankie goes through in the course of the story. His rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was particularly moving.
Fortunately for Aaron de Jesus, the other three Seasons are there to support him with amazing performances and stunning vocals.
Matthew Dailey pulls us into the story immediately as Tommy DeVito, the most Jersey of the Jersey Boys, who more closely resembles Tony Soprano than Justin Bieber. Dailey is a fine meathead, but when the glitter jackets come on he is as suave as any of the smoothest crooners.
Keith Hines is a hilarious and valuable addition as Nick Massi, the self-proclaimed “Ringo Starr” of the Four Seasons whose deadpan asides and occasional comic outbursts are a critical component to the overall energy of the show.
Drew Seeley plays Bob Gaudio, who in real life, as in the story, wrote most of the Four Season’s songs and spearheaded their development into a musical in the early 2000s. Seeley appropriately looks like he came out of a box labeled “60s Pop Stars.” He brings a superbly polished performance that mirrors the precise and somewhat calculating nature of his character.
The set or Jersey Boys is nothing special, in and of itself – a metal catwalk that evokes heavy Jersey industry – but the remarkable thing is how quickly and seamlessly the boatload of set pieces come on and off during a galaxy of scenes. Tables, chairs, desks, and even a sound studio are flow in, wheeled in, or otherwise shoved on stage, all with an ease and even grace that becomes as much a part of the show as the scenes themselves. The stage is washed by a Liberace-colorful lighting design by Howell Binckley, and the costumes, designed by Jess Goldstein, are an exemplar of fun and accurate period-dressing.
At one point in the show, Bob Gaudio speaks to the audience about the difference between the Four Seasons and another certain popular male rock quartet from the 1960s. He says:
Our fans didn’t put flowers in their hair and try to levitate the Pentagon… They were the factory workers, the truck drivers, the kids pumping gas, flipping burgers. The pretty girl with circles under her eyes behind the counter at the diner.
And that feel-good, down to earth attitude is as instrumental to the success of Jersey Boys as it was to the original Four Seasons. So go ahead. Take out your best girl, share a malt, and enjoy the gritty glitz and wonderful harmonies of Jersey Boys. We may need the sweet notes of that bygone era more now than ever.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minute, with one intermission.
Aaron De Jesus on Playing Frankie Valli in ‘Jersey Boys’ at The National Theatre by Joel Markowitz.