Jersey Boys including new cast member Quinn Van Antwerp, far left
[rssbreak]The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is told, happily, through lots of period tunes, with the narration shifting (as the seasons do, literally, with projections cuing us in on the growth and decline of the group) from one of the original quartet to the next.
It's a slick, award-winning production, directed seamlessly but without much heart by Des McAnuff. In fairness, that emotional component is hard to find in Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book. Happily, Sergio Trujillo's choreography catches us up visually and helps bring us into this world of small clubs, big hits and the group's internal and external struggles.
Part of the show's chemistry stems from the group's disparate personalities, all well filled in this production. Jeremy Kushnier's still in the role of Tommy DeVito, who sees himself as the kingpin of the troupe and spends money like a despotic ruler. There's good comedy in Michael Lomenda's Nick Massi, and Quinn VanAntwerp's Bob Gaudio, the composer who starts the guys on a meteoric rise, has a boylike earnestness you can easily believe.
But it's Jeff Madden as Valli who's the musical star here, with those money notes up in the stratosphere and a nice sense of character as he develops from the innocent, nasal kid-brother type to the man who quietly calls the shots. The role is one of his best.
In this play's world, women have little impact (and not many lines, though Jenny Lee Stern as Frankie's first wife Mary has some bitchy zingers) and gays and Italians are stereotyped. Too bad Brickman and Elice don't use the period music more often to make a dramatic point; when they do, in a number like My Eyes Adored You, the effect is strong.
The sketchy narrative's a problem when the book tries to move us, as when Frankie suffers a family tragedy in the second act. We're supposed to feel for him, but since no context's been set up, the moment isn't poignant.
Catch Jersey Boys for its musical nostalgia and enjoy the rocking performances by the cast. Just don't expect the storytelling to offer a major emotional experience. See Continuing.