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Big Men in Town

by B.A. Nilsson on March 7, 2012

MUSIC BY BOB GAUDIO, LYRICS BY BOB CREWE, BOOK BY MARSHALL BRICKMAN AND RICK ELICE, DIRECTED BY DES MCANUFF, at PROCTORS, Through MARCH 18
Jersey Boys

left to right: Andrus, Weinstock, Kappus and Foytik in Jersey Boys

 

Frankie Valli’s Four Seasons were one of the few groups who withstood the seismic blast the Beatles wrought upon pop music in 1964. With No. 1 hits before, during, and after the height of the Beatles’ reign, the Four Seasons demonstrated the staying power of a sound nurtured in a 1950s musical language but with the added signature of Valli’s distinctive voice, especially in falsetto.

If any group deserve the jukebox-musical treatment, the Four Seasons do. Aside from early brushes with the law (being a small-time hood in northern New Jersey has achieved reverential status), the group’s biggest problems seem to have been staying together and producing hits. The story runs, in four acts, from the 1950s, as Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytik) struggles to get a singing group together, and peaks in 1967 with Valli’s hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” a moment so built up in the show that the audience was ready to ovate as the song’s opening chords sounded.

Book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice borrowed the idea of presenting the story through the point of view of each of the Four Seasons members in turn, and even had the balls to align each of those perspectives with a season, beginning with spring.

DeVito starts off the tale, introducing himself as what we’ll see is an egotistical blowhard whom Foytik deftly portrays, his emotional flip-flops given plausibility by his full-tilt commitment to the character.

But what really drives the show is the seemingly nonstop music. It’s much more than the sum of the Four Seasons’ hits. It’s a cavalcade of the tunes the group members listened to, started with and fought against. (And the show’s program lists another 19 songs that, as the heading puts it, “got away.”)

“I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” dating back to 1928, sounds early—it’s Frankie’s tryout piece—and recurs instrumentally at key moments. Before we get to the hits we came to the show to hear, we’re also treated to “Earth Angel,” “A Sunday Kind of Love” and even Eddie Jefferson’s “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

Then “Sherry” explodes, and we know where it goes from there. We’re well into act one’s part two (summer) by then, with narration by Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus), who at the time was a very young one-hit wonder who soon would prove to be a fountain of hits. Shifting the point of view is a deft narrative device that fills out characterization better than is typically the case with this kind of musical—but it skillfully breaks many of the by-default rules.

We meet producing icon Bob Crewe (Barry Anderson), who wrote songs with Gaudio, helped develop the Seasons’ style, and managed to produce hits for umpteen other groups through the decades—and Anderson captures Crewe’s legendary attractiveness with brio.

Bass player—and bass voice—Nick Massi (Brandon Andrus) is portrayed as the enigma of the group, taciturn and elegant; his big moment comes during his description of life on the road, rooming with the slovenly DeVito.

As Valli, Brad Weinstock not only has to bring life to a still-busy performing icon, but do so several times a week with an inhuman amount of energy (he hands the role to Hayden Milanes most matinees). His perspective finishes the story, bringing us through a couple of briefly dispatched heartaches and a fast forward to the group’s 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What’s most stunning about this quartet of actors is that they sing the living daylights out of the songs, achieving the distinctive close harmonies and split-second timing the music requires. The arrangements, by Ron Melrose, are punchier when compared to the originals, but it works in the context of the show. When the brass appeared during the hook of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” I suspect the audience would have let the rest of the plot go by and settled in for tune after tune.

Each of the rest of the cast plays several different characters. Three women—Kaleigh Cronin, Natalie Gallo, and Ruby Lewis—give some obligatory T&A at the top, but go on to inhabit a dizzying range of ages and styles. Thomas Fiscella plays a mob boss with admirable restraint, sketches a kindly priest in mere seconds, and even can be spotted rocking away upstage at the finale.

In the end, the story is too well known to afford many surprises. The search for the Four Seasons sound isn’t terribly compelling. But you know what? Nobody in any audience for this show is going to care. There’s just enough book to support the music, and more music than in many a book-free concert. It’s a fantastic theatrical experience.