JERSEY BOYS Reviewed by Russ Simmons
The term “jukebox musical” is one that makes some Broadway purists cringe. It often refers to shows with weak or non-existent plots that are thrown together from existing music. They’re usually regarded as the poor stepchild of ‘real’ musicals.
The rousing, well-staged and engaging touring production of “Jersey Boys,” now on stage at Kansas City’s Music Hall, goes a long way to dispel the negative connotations usually associated with jukebox musicals.
“Jersey Boys,” the story of the pop music phenomenon The Four Seasons, might be more accurately described as a “musical docudrama.” It traces the history of the rise and fall of the group that achieved its fame and fortune in the time between the formation of rock and roll in 1950s and the British Invasion of the 1960s.
There’s a reason that The Four Seasons sold over 100 million records over the years. Their catchy songs with sophisticated arrangements and soaring falsetto lead vocals by Frankie Valli are considered pop classics. Their arrangements are faithfully replicated in “The Jersey Boys” by a crack band and talented acting ensemble.
The story unfolds in chronological order divided, appropriately, into four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. A different member of the group narrates each segment.
The group’s ascension to the top of the pop music charts was peppered with felonies, jail sentences, mob associations, affairs and divorces. The show’s amusing book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice provides us a sweeping overview of the conflicts that accompanied their artistic and commercial success.
But while intriguing, none of the backstage drama would matter without the terrific music by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, performed by strong vocalists. Luckily, the “Jersey Boys” ensemble is more than up to the task.
While Brad Weinstock’s replication of Valli’s signature falsetto isn’t quite perfect, it’s still impressive. He’s given solid support from Brandon Andrus as bass Nick Massi, Colby Foytik as group founder Tommy DeVito and Jason Kappus as Gaudio, the group’s artistic nucleus.
But ultimately, the reason “Jersey Boys” works as well as it does is the snappy, sophisticated direction by Des McAnuff. In this case, the word “slick” is no pejorative.
Parents should be warned that the dialogue is filled with f-bombs and frank sexual dialogue. The Four Seasons may have sounded sweet, but they were closer to being ‘goodfellas’ than they were to choirboys. A movie version would, no doubt, garner an “R” rating.
“Jersey Boys” is an energetic crowd pleaser. As the group asks the audience the musical question “Who Loves You?” at the show’s finale, it’s clear that the affection goes both ways.
“Jersey Boys” runs through May 20th at the Music Hall, 301 West 13th St., Kansas City, Mo. For ticket information, call 816-745-3000 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.