Overture Center for the Arts
The show is at its best when delivering just what the audience wants: full-throttle recreations of the group's biggest hits.
Jukebox musicals seem to be all the rage these days; they certainly are at Overture Center as Jersey Boys launched its fall Broadway season this week, with Rock of Ages set to follow in December. I saw Jersey Boys at Overture Hall last night. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 25.
While Rock of Ages weaves a fictional story around '80s hair metal and power ballads, Jersey Boys is a surprisingly conventional retelling of the formation of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It debuted on Broadway in 2005 and won four prizes at the 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. With the exception of a flash-forward at the very beginning of the show -- in which a French rapper is belting out a club-hit version of "Oh, What a Night" in Paris in 2000 -- the show marches straightforwardly through the group's chronology.
We begin with their scrappy New Jersey roots, amid a landscape of factory jobs and petty crime. As one member observes, the only ways out are the Army, getting "mobbed up" or stardom. What starts with just a few guys from the neighborhood eventually becomes a hit-making machine, including songs like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man." Chalk it up to the combination of Valli's powerful falsetto, the fortuitous influences of singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe, and young people's growing taste for rock 'n' roll, driven in part by shows like American Bandstand.
Perhaps because Jersey Boys is likely to draw people who are already fans of the Four Seasons, character development is thin. Failed marriages and other heartbreaks are treated in a cursory way; the main goal here is to string hits together. Attention to wider social and political realities, or the changing nature of rock music, is largely nonexistent.
The biggest draw here is the exceptional voice of lead performer Nick Cosgrove as Frank Valli. Whether you care for the mannered, nasal falsetto style of Valli or not, Cosgrove's voice is an impressive instrument whose power doesn't flag during the show's 33 songs. Miles Jacoby as Bob Gaudio also possesses a very fine voice, with a mellowness that offsets Cosgrove's piercing falsetto. The show is at its best when delivering just what the audience wants: full-throttle recreations of the group's biggest hits.
Given rapid shifts in song and setting, set design is simplified: a metal scaffolding-like structure with a staircase on either side and a walkway on top. Setting is often conveyed through signs that drop down (like a neon bowling alley sign that inspired the Four Seasons' name) or huge TV monitors. The downside to relying on monitors so heavily is that one conked out near the end of the show.
Friday night's audience was quite full (the main floor appeared to be sold out) and surprisingly varied in age, given that the heyday of the Four Seasons was more than 40 years ago. ("Sherry" and "Big Girls" hit number 1 in 1962.) The appetite for nostalgia is strong, though. While I don't find the personal stories of the Four Seasons all that compelling (doesn't every band have its struggles and messy personal lives?), there is clearly a market for this kind of energetic, pop-driven musical.