In the bright and tuneful world of jukebox musicals there are your basic pizza joints that sell by the slice and the hot-diggity neighborhood kitchens that dish up the whole pie. Jersey Boys belongs among the latter, especially in an all-pro presentation like the one playing now at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre.
The song list here alone will be enough to fog up any Baby Boomer’s bifocals. But Jersey Boys also has a story to relate of street-level values, talent and drive, human failings and the capacity to stay a stand-up guy to your pals, even if they don’t deserve it.
The pals are a group of aimless delinquents in the late-Eisenhower years that may be at-risk individually but together find that they can make a joyful sound. They make several missteps and keep plugging and eventually hit pay dirt as The Four Seasons.
They may not have exactly “put Jersey on the map,” as one of the guys says, but they sure gave it a new voice. The result was a series of radio hits written mostly by Bob Gaudio (music) and Bob Crewe (lyrics).
Jersey Boys debuted on Broadway in 2005 and went on to win four 2006 Tony Awards including Best Musical. In 2009 the London production won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Other hit productions have been mounted in Turkey, South Africa, the Netherlands, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.
How can such a diverse audience relate to this bit of street-corner Americana? Nostalgia is universal, for one thing, and these records were also hits around the globe: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Let’s Hang On” and the anthemic “Oh, What a Night! (December, 1963).”
For another, the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Ellice gives each of the four central players his own “season” to put his spin on that basic rags-to-riches tale.
The cast at the Hippodrome is about halfway through the latest national tour. If you’re worried about it seeming tired or second-ratish, those of us in the opening night audience found none of that.
In large part, the successful Four Season formula depends on the falsetto vocal stylings and purity of lead singer Frankie Valli. Here Aaron De Jesus nails the sound with precision and heart in number after number. As spot-on satisfying as he is in the brassy “Walk Like a Man” and the rest, he proves moving and human in his spotlit solos of “My Eyes Adored You” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
Keith Hines’ amusingly under-appreciated Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma’s under-estimated Bob Gaudio are perfection in both song and dialogue. Only Matthew Dailey’s domineering Tommy DeVito tends to over-play at times.
Barry Anderson’s Bob Crewe comes across as a bit pat as a comic-relief gay stereotype. Surely a savvy music producer who wrote so many perfect rock lyrics would show a flash of deeper stuff here and there.
All in the supporting ensemble are strong, many of them turning up in a variety of roles. Kristen Paulicelli, Thomas Fiscella, Dru Serkes, and Leslie Rochette provide poignancy, sex appeal and other seasonings to the story of the Four Seasons.
Set within the typically versatile environment of metal scaffolds and a projection screen, this road production has been wonderfully staged by original Director Des McAnuff. Projection Designer Michael Clark accomplishes the effective use of onstage closed-circuit TV cameras with seamless transitions.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo sees that everyone moves with the fluid grace of a quality boy band, and Sound Designer Steve Canyon Kennedy recreates the excitement of all those canned recordings while giving them immediacy and dimension.
By show’s end, this production might have you thinking that the actual Four Seasons have returned for a bow. In a sense they have, and for that we say this four-star show fully deserves a fifth — five stars!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Jersey Boys plays through October 2, 2016, at The Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (800) 982-ARTS, or purchase them online.