Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
This touring ‘Jersey Boys’ is not an entire disappointment by any means. There are moments in the documentary style four seasons format where the joy of song is celebrated by the performers on this opening night. Unfortunately, this company had to keep re-lighting the flickering flame to produce the necessary spark which became a distraction for me.
I’m sure most of us are aware of the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and how their rise to fame catapulted them to dizzying heights of recording success and fame only to be brought down again by shady deals, destroyed egos and ruined friendships. Whether one has any interest in the story of the rise and fall of the Four Seasons and how Valli keeps going on and going like the Energizer bunny (actor Jonny Wexler as Frankie Vallie states this near the end), I for one knew at least the music and Sergio Trujillo’s choreography would brighten the stage.
When a show tours, I understand completely that not all the accoutrements that can be found in a sit-down production (as we had at the North York Performing Arts Centre over ten years ago) can be utilized. The Las Vegas style revue split level set design - with two unique staircases found stages left and right - is still utilized; however, from my seat in the house, the set looked to be placed just a tad too far upstage which made the playing area look cavernous. I can recall the first time when I saw the production over ten years ago that I felt part of the action of the story. The physical separation of the set prevented me from feeling connected.
The challenges with this opening night production were the peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows of performance levels. There was an inconsistency in certain choices that puzzled me. As Tommy DeVito (who prided himself as the initial manager of the group), Corey Greenan is a tough as nails opening narrator who placed us physically in the heart of the action of the early days of the group when they sang under a street lamp. I found Mr. Greenan’s character growth far more interesting in the second act. There were moments in the first act where his pacing slowed especially in the introduction of Tommy meeting Frankie. Jonathan Cable as Nick Massi is street smart and, at times, dimwitted. Again, in the second act, I liked Mr. Cable’s performance better as I saw a strong arc of character growth and development especially when we learn what happens to Nick in his personal life.
Jonny Wexler as Frankie Valli is a boyishly charming, hard edged yet angelic looking kid when we first meet him. He can certainly hit those high notes in many of those songs. Mr. Wexler’s performance was consistently solid throughout the production. Most notable moments for me were his meeting his first wife Mary Delgado (a smoking hot Ashley Bruce). I found Mr. Wexler had to work extra hard in the beginning of the first act when the pacing slowed to keep me focused.
The production finally soared for me in the introduction of Eric Chambliss as Bob Gaudio. Mr. Chambliss’ tall, lanky frame combined with a powerhouse voice and broad, physical stature made me pay attention to him each time he appeared on stage. I believed every moment, every nuance and every emotion conveyed by Mr. Chambliss. Wonderful, solid work.
Several supporting players were also notable for me in enjoying key moments. Wade Dooley as record producer Bob Crewe provided that spark of a ‘different’ nature back in the 60s. Ashley Bruce held her own in performance level with Mr. Wexler especially in those moments where we see her marriage to Frankie disintegrate and in relationship with their daughter, Francine. In her moment as daughter, Francine, Chloe Tiso realistically captured the precocious teen who is having a difficult time in connecting with her father who is always out on the road. I couldn’t hear what had happened to Francine in her dramatic conclusion, so I felt a tad confused as to what had happened. In this aftermath, the actors’ backs were to the audiences, so I had some difficulty in hearing the dialogue between Mr. Wexler and other performers involved.
Sergio Trujillo’s slick choreographed movements still work nicely. The vocal work by the entire company under Music Director Malan J. Plado is still solid. I looked around at other audience members and I could see the odd foot tapping and smile on the face which, to me, meant other audiences were enjoying the music just as much as I was.
For the most part, this ‘Jersey Boys’ does make for an enjoyable evening out at the theatre; however, I was hoping to experience the same ‘Wow’ factor as I did many years ago. It wasn’t there for me.
‘Jersey Boys’ continues to March 17 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto. For tickets, call 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Performers: Ashley Bruce, Jonathan Cable, Eric Chambliss, Rick Desloge, Wade Dooley, Todd Dubail, Corey Grennan, Kevin Patrick Martin, Chloe Tiso, Jonny Wexler, Jessica Wockenfuss.
Directed by Des McAnuff; Choreography by Sergio Trujillo; Scenic Design by Klara Zieglerova; Costume Design by Jess Goldstein; Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Sound Desig by Steve Canyon Kennedy; Projection Design by Michael Clark;
Photo of ‘Jersey Boys’ Touring Company by Joan Marcus. L-R: Jonathan Cable, Jonny Wexler, Eric Chambliss and Corey Greenan.