- OnStage Associate L.A. Critic
Oh, what a night…over a decade after premiering on Broadway and winning four Tony Awards including Best Musical, Jersey Boys is still going strong, causing audiences across the country to dance in their seats to the well-known music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. While this jukebox musical is certainly not reinventing the musical theater wheel, it is pretty reliable entertainment, and it was unsurprising to see the opening night audience at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre eating up the famous tunes and lead performance by Mark Ballas of Dancing With the Stars fame.
Directed here by Des McAnuff, Jersey Boys features music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The main characters take turns narrating the ups and downs of the group’s journey from obscurity to success to legal and financial troubles and back again with projections signifying the changing of seasons, accompanied by a shift in focus to a different member of the original Four Seasons. The story begins with Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey), who makes up for in business instincts what he lacks in singing ability and star quality, struggling to get all the ingredients right to create the perfect quartet. He finds Frankie Valli (Ballas), a gifted young singer, when he is just a teen and puts him front and center. When they meet Bob Gaudio (Cory Jeacoma), a talented songwriter, the band finally finds “their sound” and begins to catapult to success with songs such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.” The quartet is rounded out by the stoic Nick Massi (Keith Hines), the self-proclaimed Ringo of the group. While their songs rocket to the top of the charts, the situation becomes complicated when the others discover Tommy has gotten himself into a massive amount of debt, and divisions and secret alliances amongst the four men threaten to bring their success to a screeching halt. Ultimately, the group evolves into the renamed Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, a new iteration that puts their star front and center amongst four other largely unimportant men, and Gaudio happily shifts to a fully behind the scenes role, writing more and more hits.
Jersey Boys is one of those shows where even if you don’t think you will going in, you’ll end up knowing almost every song. Ballas, known for his skill as a professional dancer, is very charismatic and hits all of the right notes at the most crucial moments, including on his biggest song, Frankie’s solo smash “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” There were a few less critical vocal moments where he seemed strained and made me slightly nervous, but he pulled through, although I could not help but chuckle at the fact that we are supposed to buy him as a teenager throughout the first portion of the show. Jeacoma was the vocal standout of the show as Gaudio, getting his moment to shine on “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” The musical does not do much service to any of the characters outside the four leads, however. The mere three female cast members play a variety of one-dimensional roles and at no point even threaten to pass the Bechdel test, and the band’s flamboyantly gay producer is used as a punchline throughout.
While most elements of the production work quite well, I found the odd, pop art cartoon-style projections strange. Their style did not mesh with the rest of the show, making them seem silly and out of place. Using projections to communicate the passage of time is one thing, but do we really need a cartoon cop on the screen while the characters are talking to a cop? The pacing of the story towards the end is also a bit off—it seems the show is about to end when Frankie abruptly suffers a family tragedy, only to turn right around and wrap things up in a final upbeat musical number set years later.
All of that being said, it is simply hard to go wrong with music this good, and the show does a great job of exploring these four characters while providing a lesser-known history lesson of the drama behind one of music’s most well-known groups. To cap it all off, Frankie Valli himself made a special appearance onstage during the curtain call at opening night. If you are a fan of or even vaguely familiar with the Four Seasons, there is plenty to enjoy here, so walk like a (wo)man down to the Ahmanson to catch this production.
Jersey Boys runs at the Ahmanson through June 24th. Please note that Mark Ballas will not appear at all performances—for those dates, click here. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.centertheatregroup.org. The TodayTix mobile app also has a daily lottery to win tickets for just $19.67. For information on upcoming tour dates across the US and Canada, click here.
Erin grew up in upstate New York and developed a love for theater at a young age thanks to frequent day trips for matinees in the city. After attending college at Boston University, Erin moved to Los Angeles, where she works in television and attempts to fill the NYC-shaped hole in her heart by attending as many theater productions as possible. A sucker for a good tap dance number, Erin is constantly reminding people why it’s not crazy to see the same show multiple times and lives for the uniquely in-the-moment experience live theater provides. She began writing about theater and television on her personal blog, On Stage & Screen, last year and is excited to share her passion with a larger audience. You can follow her on Twitter @Erinsk8