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Musical Theatre Review

Oh, What a Show! Broadway Series South's Jersey Boys Rocks Raleigh Memorial Auditorium

June 26, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

Oh, what a show! When Broadway Series South booked the much-ballyhooed national tour of Jersey Boys for a four-week run at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, starting on June 24th and ending on July 18th, expectations were stratospheric — and this explosive backstage musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons exceeded them. Indeed, there are more fireworks onstage than there are in a typical Fourth of July celebration.

Jersey Boys is fabulous — as foul-mouthed as a typical episode of The Sopranos on HBO — but still fabulous. Even if the humor is often coarse, the harmonies are always heavenly as Jersey Boys traces the evolution of these 1990 Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductees from street-corner doo-wop to a cover band to chart-toppers with five number-one hits —“Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll,” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” — plus two more number ones —“My Eyes Adored You” and “Grease” — and a number-two hit — “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” — for Frankie Valli as a solo act.

In the current national tour of Jersey Boys, produced by Dodger Theatricals et al., Joseph Leo Bwarie and Josh Franklin imbue their portrayals of the group’s dynamic duo — lead singer Frankie Valli, with his trademark falsetto giving “Walk Like a Man” an ironic twist, and songwriter and tenor Bob Gaudio (rhythm guitar and keyboards) — with plenty of panache. Although the oldest member of the original Four Seasons, Valli seems almost boyish; and Bwarie plays him with a vulnerability that makes his performance all the more endearing. Franklin also puts plenty of personality into his portrait of Gaudio, a former one-hit wonder (“Short Shorts”) who may have been the final member of the original foursome but brought a heretofore missing element to the group: the ability to crank out hit after hit.

Matt Bailey and Steve Gouveia also make indelible impressions with their gritty performances as baritone Tommy DeVito (lead guitar) and bass Nick Massi (bass guitar). Although DeVito is the nominal villain of the piece, a tough guy whose mob connections nearly prove disastrous to the Four Seasons, Bailey gives him a humanity that keeps his character from going beyond the pale. Gouveia is also highly amusing as the wisecracking Nick Massi.

Jonathan Hadley provides strong support as gay producer/songwriter Bob Crewe, who helped the Four Seasons develop their distinctive sound; and Joseph Siravo is equal parts creepy and charming as Newark mob boss Gyp DeCarlo. Courter Simmons provides periodic comic relief — much of it scatological — as the band’s biggest fan, pushy potty-mouthed future gangster-movie star Joe Pesci; and Renee Marino is terrific as Mary Delgado, the tough backtalking broad who became Frankie Valli’s first wife.

What sets Jersey Boys apart from the typical jukebox musical, with its contrived situations involving fictional characters, is that Jersey Boys is a frank retelling of the long, hard struggle of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to achieve success as recording artists and live performers. Indeed, there are 14 musical numbers before the band hits the big-time with “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” Other musical highlights include “My Eyes Adored You,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Big Man in Town,” “Stay,” “Let’s Hang On! (To What We’ve Got),” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “Rag Doll.” “Sherry” was a showstopper, “Walk Like a Man” had the crowd roaring, “My Eyes Adored You” drew sighs, and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” brought the audience to its feet.

Director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo recreate the magic of the multiple Tony Award-winning original Broadway production on the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium stage. Musical coordinator John Miller, scenic designer Klara Zieglerova, lighting designer Howell Binkley, costume designer Jess Goldstein, hair and wig designer Charles LaPointe, projection designer Michael Clark, and sound designer Steve Canyon Kennedy also repeat their roles on the national tour.

Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova’s stark multilevel set, with a big section of chainlink fencing used as a curtain, facilitates cinematic scene changes from various Newark locations to seedy clubs and later to an appearance on American Bandstand and posh concert venues. Costume designer Jess Goldstein outfits the cast in s snazzy array of flamboyant 1960s and 1970s fashions, and conductor Andrew Wilder and the Jersey Boys onstage and backstage musicians polish the gems in the Four Seasons’ songbook until they sparkle.

Triangle theatergoers, who frequently interrupted the June 26 performance with prolonged applause, will not soon forget this rags-to-riches story about the American super-group that provided so much of the soundtrack for Baby Boomers’ teenage years. Don’t miss it.

Jersey Boys continues its run through July 5 and then July 7-12 and 14-18. See our theatre calendar for details.