Theater Review: JERSEY BOYS (2018-19 National Tour)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 3, 2019

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


Back by popular demand but for only one week at the Auditorium Theatre, the mega-jukebox musical Jersey Boys continues to stir up a perfect storm of industrial-strength nostalgia. Replete with doo-wop harmonies, pile-driving rock anthems and blue-collar verismo, the trademarks of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, this well-packaged blast from the past may soft-peddle the Mafia-ridden New Jersey that produced these pop geniuses and their goodfella godfathers, but it’s the performances, as much inspiration as imitation, that sell these terrific numbers. You can’t fool a happy crowd. Joy is joy is joy.

Fast moving and graphically intense, this is the American success story on steroids, organized by the seasons as we count down to their induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In “Spring” a punk criminal named Tommy DeVito assembles a Garden State quartet that will finally become The Four Seasons (after trying out The Four Lovers and The Royal Teens among other monickers). Never forgetting their blue-collar roots (but overcoming their rap sheet reputations), these harmony crooners belted songs that could make you fall in love on the spot and never forget them thereafter. The fabulous four are sensible Nick Massi (Jonathan Cable), wannabe gangsta and runaway spendthrift Tommy DeVito (Todd DuBal), the soaring boy soprano that broke a million hearts (otherwise known as Frankie Valli, formerly Castellucccio — and now memorably Jonny Wexler), and the genius songwriter, Joe Pesci protege and self-effacing performer Bob Gaudio (Eric Chambliss).

With the help of a gay manager and a lot of street-corner moxie, the Platinum foursome carve out a permanent constellation in the rock and roll universe and seal the deal with songs you’ll love as much the last time you hear them as the first.

Chronicling their storied rise with the hits that stamped their era (“Earth Angel,” “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “(Who Wears) Short Shorts,” ”Walking My Way Back to You, “Let’s Hang on to What We’ve Got”), their doings are illustrated by giant Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoons as blatantly rhapsodic as the songs. (We also sample one girl group, with the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back.”)

The friends’ loyalties get tested to the limit when DeVito’s debts trigger mob threats against the guy group, forcing Frankie and Bobby to raise $1 million to pay off Gyp DeCarlo, enforcer extraordinaire. Frankie’s long-distance marriage to Mary Delgado founders on too many tours and a daughter on drugs. In no time “Winter” ends The Four Seasons but they stay true to their roots (well, Gaudio never liked New Jersey to start with).

Jersey Boys never shies from showing the price behind the chart busters (175 million records sold worldwide!) and the differences among the scarlet jackets. I wish it spent more time, as did The Buddy Holly Story, with showing us how they made the music. But when we hear Wexler’s boyish, irrepressible and incandescent “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” we’re present at the creation. Everything old is new again and now three golden oldies (alas, Nick Massi is no longer alive) are Jersey boys once and forever.

photos by Joan Marcus

Jersey Boys
2018-2019 National Tour
presented by Broadway in Chicago
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Ida B Wells Dr.

tour continues to July, 2019
for dates, cities and tickets, visit Jersey Boys

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