If you’re looking for a theme for Nippertown’s spring arts season, the words “Jersey Boys” would seem to fit the bill just fine.
Jersey’s fave alt-rock combo Titus Andronicus roared into Valentine’s Music Hall in Albany on Saturday (March 3) night, wrapping up UAlbany radio station WCDB-FM’s wailin’ two-day 34th Anniversary Music Festival.
And next month, Jersey’s favorite musical son Bruce Springsteen leads his reconstituted E Street Band into the Times Union Center in Albany for what is certainly the hottest spring concert ticket in town.
But in all honesty, Bruce is gonna have to bring his A game to town to top the knock-out production of “Jersey Boys” that’s playing at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday, March 18.
I’m no a fan of “jukebox musicals” like “Mamma Mia” that are cob-jobbed together from a catalog of hit pop tunes, (as much as I adore the music of Abba). But that’s not really what “Jersey Boys” does. Instead, it’s a warts-and-all biographical musical that traces the career of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons with their music. And as Valli (expertly portrayed by Brad Weinstock) says, it was “such a God-damned roller coaster.”
Yeah, I used to think that the Beach Boys were America’s most dysfunctional rock-era band, but after seeing “Jersey Boys,” I’m gonna have to do some re-thinking. I never really paid much attention to the Four Seasons, I must admit. Sure, I liked the hits – especially “Dawn” – but I never really considered them pop heavyweights. I’ve bought thousands of albums over the years, but I think that I’ve ever only owned one Four Seasons album – some greatest hits package that I bought for $2.99 out of the cut-out bin at the old Just-A-Song record store on Central Avenue.
So I definitely didn’t walk into Proctors with a “how-dare-you-mess-with-one-of-fave-bands” kind of chip on my shoulder. But I walked out at the end of the show thinking, “Damn, I’d better go home and listen to some Four Seasons albums to see whether the real band can actually live up to the show I just witnessed.”
It was a magnificent night of theater – whether or not you grew up listening to the Four Seasons’ music or ever made out in the back seat of a car to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” All four leads – Jason Kappus (as Bob Gaudio), Brandon Andrus (as Nick Massi) and Colby Foytik (as Tommy DeVito), in addition to Weinstock’s Valli) – were excellent. The harmonies were dead-on; the musicianship was spot-on; and the acting was superb – and there was definitely some serious acting required.
The first act carried them through the arduous process of band formation with comic relief from Barry Anderson (as producer Bob Crewe) and Christopher Messina (as Joe Pesci – yes, that Joe Pesci). The smart and witty book – by Rick Elice and longtime Woody Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman – injected just the right dosage of humor into a dramatic tale that veered toward the darkness just as the band struck success.
Where to go after that? The second act featured fewer of the band’s hits, turning darker and more dramatic, in typical VH1 “Behind the Music” fashion. And although it side-stepped the formula, it was no less compelling.
The truth of the matter is that “Jersey Boys” is a great night of theater even if you don’t know anything at all about the Four Seasons. Kudos to director Des McAnuff, who often staged key moments – both musical and personal – with the actors’ backs to the audience. It was particularly effective at the end of act one, staging the band’s appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” from a behind-the-scenes backstage perspective.
Special kudos also go out to set designer Klara Zieglevova – who conjured evocative scenes even in brief moments like the brilliant bowling alley scene and the industrial Jersey skyline behind “My Eyes Adored You.”
The Four Seasons. The Four Freshmen. Four Tet. It really doesn’t matter what your musical preferences are. “Jersey Boys” will resonate with you long after you leave the theater. It’s a thrilling evening of entertainment, chockful of magical, memorable songs, but it’s also a taut, cautionary tale. As Nick (Brandon Andrus) says, “None of us were saints. You sell 100 million records. See how you handle it.”
“Jersey Boys” continues its run at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday, March 18. Tix are priced at $20, $30, $45, $ 55, $60, $70, $75, $95 & $130. And if you want to see whether the real thing lives up to the promise of “Jersey Boys,” Frankie Valli himself steps into the spotlight at Proctors with the current incarnation of the Four Seasons at 8pm on Thursday, May 10. Tix are $20, $50, $60, $70 & $85.
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Matthew G. Moross’ review at The Daily Gazette: “Musically this evening is a complete success. Sounding like the best Vegas cover band ever to hit the Strip, the immensely gifted young cast sells it for all they can. Every song is fun and well-staged. But then the music stops and the show stalls. What is so odd is that, for all the tissue issues in Valli’s life — no money, no love, no understanding of the artist’s soul — the show has little organic tension. The few moments of tension that do arrive are created by liberal use of the F-word, and that word isn’t ‘Frankie.’ What’s missing is any of the characters’ ‘wants.’ We seldom get to feel or care about whatever any of them want. They talk about it and around it, but it’s just that, talk. Maybe we should just fugettaboutit. Who cares? If they don’t care, why should we?”