Review: Jersey Boys

Can you come out tonight?

Jersey Boys runs through Feb. 16 in Scranton

 
Before teeny boppers started shrieking themselves hoarse over the Beatles, regular blue-collar Americans lapped up The Four Seasons, sending four kids from rough New Jersey neighborhoods to harmonic heights with hit after hit. Meatier than your average jukebox musical, Jersey Boys’ greatest triumph is making that music part of the journey of four men who didn’t want stardom so much as just a chance to make a legitimate living.
 
The contemporary musical opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in the fall of 2004 and moved to Broadway and won four Tony Awards in the fall of 2006 thanks largely to positive reviews. Broadway Theatre League of NEPA’s presentation of the second national tour opened on Wednesday evening at the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple.
 
Composer Bob Gaudio’s influence on the musical is apparent and younger generations will walk away with a new respect for him as a songwriter. As the structure of the songs is revealed — cycles of repetition, rich in dynamics built around Frankie Valli’s (Hayden Milanes) talent with business-like awareness of the trends of the day — we can see why they call him “the genius.”
 

(From left) Adam Zelasko (Nick Massi), Hayden Milanes (as Frankie), Jason Kappus (Bob Gaudio), and Nicolas Dromard (Tommy DeVito) as The Four Seasons. Not pictured is Quinn VanAntwerp who took a break from Jersey Boys after playing Bob Gaudio for four years, is back in the role for a couple of months to fill in for Jason Kappus, who will be picking up the role in Las Vegas (allowing him to stay with his family and new baby.)

(From left) Adam Zelasko (Nick Massi), Hayden Milanes (as Frankie), Jason Kappus (Bob Gaudio), and Nicolas Dromard (Tommy DeVito) as The Four Seasons. Not pictured is Quinn VanAntwerp who took a break from Jersey Boys after playing Bob Gaudio for four years, is back in the role for a couple of months to fill in for Jason Kappus, who will be picking up the role in Las Vegas (allowing him to stay with his family and new baby.)


It’s this backstory that gives us a greater appreciation of the musicians, the musicianship, and the songs. It’s a scrappy little bowling alley kid named Joey (Ian Joseph) who brings Gaudio (Quinn VanAntwerp) to Four Seasons founder Tommy DeVito (Nicolas Dromard). Turns out he’s that Joe Pesci. (Fun fact: Pesci’s character in Goodfellas is named Tommy DeVito.) We see the band’s sound finally click as Gaudio, seated at a real piano, plays and each member gradually joins in, finding his place in the song. They get the name Four Seasons from a bowling alley sign after they fail to land a gig.
 
Jersey Boys is arranged more like a television documentary or movie with a lot of cuts from one quick, short scene to the next. The book is thankfully more than elaborate segues connecting hits like perilous ladder bridges. They are packed with conflict, profanity and comedy (landfill jokes are always good for a laugh in NEPA), with each band member narrating one of the four different acts (spring, summer, fall and winter.)
 
The flow is seamless. New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley pointed out in 2005, it is “directed with more efficiency than originality by Des McAnuff.” A few of the musical’s most dramatic moments suffer from awkward blocking that alienates the audience from making a meaningful emotional connection to the actors. One finds the Boys trapped behind a table upstage cursing in Italian as melodramatic music swells. Another finds Frankie with his back to the audience singing “Fallen Angel” in mourning for his daughter. Unable to share his grief with the audience, it feels absurd instead of tragic when the girl, now presumably a ghost, enters. Howell Binkley won one of the musical’s four Tony Awards for his lighting design. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself admiring it — the lighting directs our eye and really goes along way in making up for the minimal setting required for constant shifting action with creative use of color, angle, spots, and silhouettes.
 
Musically there is a traceable progression as Frankie grows into his voice from a very jazzy “I’m in the Mood for Love” to the birth of the band’s first big hit “Sherry.” There’s a quick change into matching red suits and the boys are on camera with live stage shots projected between vintage audience footage. The audience applauds as nostalgia kicks in— finally, this is the band they know.
 
Milanes does his best work in the final act as Frankie goes solo. It climaxes with the story of Gaudio’s personal legwork to get radio play for what was dismissed as an “art song” — “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” We realize how different it must have sounded from other songs of that time, as a horn section enters and the song culminates in a literal show stopper with Gaudio standing there on the upper walk grinning like God over his creation.
 
The show doesn’t stand a chance of passing the Bechdel test but instead of throwing in the towel, it throws in The Angels “My Boyfriend’s Back” for no other reason, it would seem, than to give the cast’s three women a song. In keeping with the attitude of the times and the Boys’ upbringing, women are largely props. “You don’t lie to your mother and you don’t tell truth to your wife,” Nick Massi cracks. There are “girls, women, wives and other people’s wives,” DeVito explains earlier in the show. The show’s three actresses collectively play more than 50 different roles.
 
One serves Tommy DeVito (Nicolas Drommard) a meal as he sits on a recliner covered in plastic, another enables Gaudio to finally lose his virginity in a Chicago hotel room. One stands behind a counter in a waitress costume folding a towel under an unfortunate Lichtenstein-style pop art graphic of a coffee pot, so we know they’re in a diner. This is not to suggest Frankie’s liberated journalist girlfriend Lorraine (Jaycie Dotin), Frankie’s wisecracking wife Mary Delgado (Marlana Dunn) and Frankie’s talented, but tortured daughter Francine (Rachel Schurr) don’t have a lot of character. They’ve got heart and brains and guts and make sure we understand the kicks of life on the road are countered by the pain of leaving loved ones behind.
 
The boys smoke pot and buy cars and have “everything a 22 year old can want”… except family. Played by understudy John Rochette for Adam Zelasko on Feb. 5, Massi admits raising his kids to think he was their uncle so he could mess around. Considering himself the band’s Ringo, he quits the band and heads home to make up for his absence not longer after DeVito is bought out, debts and tax lien and all.
 
“I don’t want to seem ubiquitous, but we put Jersey on the map,” DeVito cracks as the show opens with “Ces soirées-là,” a contemporary French hip-hop cover of “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” showing us how the music of The Four Seasons has persevered and enjoyed an international influence.
 
We are fortunate Jersey Boys put Scranton on its map.
 
Jersey Boys principal cast members with Scranton mayor Bill Courtright who, on Feb. 4, proclaimed it Jersey Boys week in The Electric City.

Jersey Boys principal cast members with Scranton mayor Bill Courtright who, on Feb. 4, proclaimed it Jersey Boys week in The Electric City.


 
IF YOU GO:
What: Broadway Theatre League presents Jersey Boys
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple
When: Continuing Friday, Feb. 7 through Sunday, Feb. 16 with evening performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m, Sundays At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Some shows are close to selling out. Runs two hours and 35 minutes with 15 minute intermission. Not recommended for children younger than age 12.
Tickets: $47.50-75.20; call (570) 342-7784 for reservations or visit broadwayscranton.com.