EmptyAhmanson Theatre, Los Angeles
Through Aug. 31
The best thing about "Jersey Boys" -- last year's Tony winner for best musical -- is that it's not just about the music of '60s icon Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And this is saying something in a show that features 33 songs, many of them soft-pop classics, and nearly all of them guaranteed to have you dancing in your seat.
The real star of the show is Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's brilliantly entertaining book. These two wizards obviously weren't content to turn the story they had in mind into another jukebox musical. Instead, they've done their homework and created a first-rate piece of Americana as well as a backstage musical that shines with intelligence and wit. When the evening finally draws to a close, the audience is being carried along on a wave of musical and dramatic energy that, if it had its way, would probably go on indefinitely.
The show uses several narrators to keep us in touch with the story line. Cleverly, Valli is not one of those narrators, which has the effect of letting other members of the group share the spotlight. This is a good choice because the other characters are interesting in their own right, and we're reminded that "Jersey Boys" really is about all of these guys.
First up is Tommy DeVito, the toughest, roughest and rawest (Jersey language is not for sissies) of the boys. Deven May gives Tommy a swagger and attitude that is strictly streetwise, Italian-American Jersey, with an aggressive touch of irony to show off his smarts. Tommy is the one who scraped this group together off the dead-end streets of Jersey and then held them together until his vices finally outmuscled his virtues. May is terrific in the part.
Bob Gaudio (an excellent Erich Bergen), the musical genius who wrote most of the hit songs that turned a bunch of Jersey wannabes into the Four Seasons, is the next narrator. Bob is the polar opposite of Tommy, an intellectual with no sexual experience to speak of when we first meet him, which can't be said of anyone else we meet, male or female. Bob gives the group its first big hit, "Sherry," and the new sound that becomes their trademark. Other Four Season hits we hear are "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "My Eyes Adored You," "C'Mon Marianne" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."
Nick Massi (Michael Ingersoll), the Seasons' other member, fills us in on some of the backstage drama as the group rises to the top of the charts, stays there for a few years, then gradually disintegrates. It's a roller-coaster ride told with all the thrills and spills intact.
As for Valli, the musical spine of the evening, Christopher Kale Jones does a beautiful job developing the character as well as singing his heart out. It's a stirring performance because as we watch Valli and the others grow up, we hear the songs and the singing change coloration to reflect what's going on in their lives.
It's hard to measure director Des McAnuff's contribution to the evening, but clearly it's huge. The stage is alive at all times, and the transitions are seamless to the point of seeming filmic. Also turning in a winning performance is John Altieri as Bob Crewe, the gay impresario and lyricist with a razor-sharp tongue for every occasion. Joseph Siravo is local boss Gyp DeCarlo, and Jackie Seiden is Mary Delgado, Valli's first wife. Sergio Trujillo's choreography is imaginative and vibrant.
Dodger Theatricals, Joseph J. Grano, Tamara and Kevin Kinsella, Pelican Group in association with Latitude Link and Rick Steiner
Book: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice
Director: Des McAnuff
Music: Bob Gaudio
Lyrics: Bob Crewe
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Scenic designer: Klara Zieglerova
Lighting designer: Howard Binkley
Costume designer: Jess Goldstein
Sound designer: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Projection designer: Michael Clark
Orchestrations: Steve Orich
Music coordinator: John Miller
Conductor: Andrew Wilder
Music direction, vocal arrangements, incidental music: Ron Melrose
Frankie Valli: Christopher Kale Jones
Tommy DeVito: Deven May
Bob Gaudio: Erich Bergen
Nick Massi: Michael Ingersoll
Bob Crewe: John Altieri
Gyp DeCarlo: Joseph Siravo
Mary Delgado: Jackie Seiden
Nick DeVito: Miles Aubrey
Frankie's mother: Melissa Strom
Angel: Sandra DeNise