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Note: Although Tuesday night’s “Jersey Boys” performance was cancelled due to the wildfires, Broadway San Diego reps announced that as of this time, the show will continue tonight and finish its run as scheduled. Ticket holders unable to attend due to the fires may contact their point of purchase for ticket exchange. For more information: www.broadwaysd.com.
Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007 | The year: 1962. A certain four-man pop music sensation sent flashbulbs popping, had sold-out crowds cheering and girls swooning. But it wasn’t four guys from Liverpool hitting number one on the music charts. It was four guys from Jersey.
“Jersey Boys” is based on the story of the Four Seasons, from the street-corner pop band’s inception to stardom. Winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, “Jersey Boys” has San Diego beginnings. The musical debuted in 2004 at La Jolla Playhouse and was directed by the ubiquitous Des McAnuff, whose name was heard whispered throughout the audience on Friday night when the national tour of the show arrived in San Diego.
High-energy and full of foot-tapping music, “Boys” hits all the right notes in all the right places. It’s filled with all the classic songs you know, and you do know them, by the Four Seasons. They started out as four blue-collar guys singing under a streetlight in New Jersey with dreams of getting out of their tough “old neighborhood.” Group founders Tommy DeVito and Frankie Valli (born Castellucio) had several starts and stops with different incarnations of their group’s lineup. Eventually songwriter Bob Gaudio and bassist Nick Massi joined up and they became the Four Seasons (after several name changes.)
Narrated alternately by the four main characters, the audience receives four highly different points of view. The story begins as told by the brash Tommy DeVito. Engaging and with a crackling wit, Deven May’s portrayal of the dubious Tommy never cloys. May excellently personifies Tommy with his vices (love of gambling, for example) but deftly avoids categorizing him as a bad guy. May was in a word, captivating. (And not just because of his devastating good looks.)
With a clear high voice, Christopher Kale Jones’ falsetto-voiced Frankie Valli exhibits endurance and range. Covering the range of Valli for hours at a time has got to be exhausting, and Jones gracefully sustains. As Valli, Jones’ performance was appropriately emotional; he captures Valli’s sensitivity with honor. (And I say this not just because of his endearing good looks.)
As the group evolves, the soundtrack is interwoven with Four Seasons songs such as “Sherry” (their first big hit in 1962), “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Talk about crowd-pleasers, the songs are infectious and there are more than 30 songs throughout the show. People all around me were singing along and the people in the balcony were going crazy, whistling and cheering.
An original member of both the LJP and Broadway cast, San Diegan Steve Gouveia plays the technical musically gifted Nick Massi. Gouveia’s elegantly understated portrayal of Massi — who eventually quits the Four Seasons — is almost haunting. (Not only because of his fetching good looks.)
Last to join the group, keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) had an earlier hit with “(Who Wears) Short Shorts” at the age of 15. Gaudio’s songwriting helped catapult the group into the limelight as he wrote hit after hit for the Four Seasons. Though they were all even partners, it was Gaudio and Valli who made a side-deal with an old-fashioned handshake and eventually bought out the others. Impressively tall and oozing personality, Bergen’s Gaudio successfully grounds the group. Bergen’s acting is smooth as silk; he gives Gaudio a calming presence and real charisma. (And this not just because of his striking good looks.)
In addition to singing silkily and acting adeptly, Bergen, Jones, Gouveia and May manage to maintain the Four Seasons’ synchronized dance moves with refinement. The actors’ enthusiasm, clearly catching, spread to the audience and the rest of the cast.
With their work clearly cut out for them, the supporting cast members help guide the storyline by working fluidly and as a team to cover everything from background dancers to moving stage-props. Most of the auxiliary cast portray more than one or two characters and they do it well — all of them. One standout was John Altieri, on fire as music producer Bob Crewe. Altieri easily stole his scenes as the astrology-loving Crewe.
Of course, as Frankie movingly tells the audience, it’s really about the music. You may not think you know much from the Four Seasons, but you do. They may not be the Beatles, but the Four Seasons were influential in their own right. And Bergen, Jones, Gouveia and May bring the four guys from Jersey to life by performing great music with great sensitivity. Just ask the audience from last Friday night.
“Jersey Boys” runs through November 11. For more information log onto www.broadwaysd.com.