SALT LAKE CITY — If you like jukebox musicals along the lines of Abba’s Mamma Mia!, Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out, and Green Day’s American Idiot, Jersey Boys, now playing at the Capitol Theatre, is one worth crossing off the list. Chronicling the road to success of the popular 1960’s group The Four Seasons, the musical showcases their tunes (such as “Sherry,” “Walk like a Man,” and “Oh, What a Night”) in a way that highlights their artistry. And the (not-so-idealized) American Dream. A Broadway Across America tour directed by Des McAnuff, the quality of the performance is stellar, compensating for the minor flaws in the script.
Jersey Boys came to Broadway in 2005 after band member and songwriter Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe sought to stage the hits of The Four Seasons. Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice elected to use the music to document the band’s story, rather than creating a fictional story around the music a lá Mamma Mia! The choice was a good one. The challenges the band members faced while attempting to climb out of their poor New Jersey neighborhoods into the world of fame and success only to be thrust into a no-less-damaging rat race life on the road are certainly worthy of staged drama. Winning the Tony for Best New Musical in 2006, Jersey Boys hits all the necessary sweet and bitter moments of the band, from time in prison, to sweet success, failed marriages, number-one records, a child’s death, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Similar to other rock and jukebox musicals, the feel of the musical is urban and industrial, with the stage, designed by Klara Zieglerova, comprised of minimal metal stairs and walk-ways and enhanced by projections of city skylines, comic-book style pop art, and glowing neon signs. The set design works, simply providing a general sense of location, period, and atmosphere in a way that showcases the music. The story, too, moves quickly and chronologically through the four “seasons” of the band members’ lives: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, the various stages of disappointment and triumph are set apart. This is helped, in part, by the alternating narrators. Each band member takes a turn giving their perspective on history.
Nicolas Dromard opens the show as Tommy DeVito, band co-founder and typical Jersey Boy. In and out of trouble with the law and the mob throughout the band’s tenure, Dromard tells DeVito’s story with pomp, bravado, and humor and sets the pace high and full of energy for the rest of the show. Jason Kappus as Bob Gaudio jumps next into the narration, clarifying DeVito’s story of success. Kappus is perfect as the young business-savy, but-not-so-worldly, Gaudio. And because Gaudio was the principal song-writer of the group and largely responsible for their success, his stories behind the songs and their sometimes surprising composition are highlights. In contrast, Nick Massis’s narration by actor Brandon Andrus is purposefully understated. The only band member to pass away before the musical was written, his story is most incomplete. Andrus compensates for this by an attuned, quiet performance, punctuated with easy timed humor and a sense of affinity with the audience. Finally, the voice of the Four Seasons, Frankie Valli narrates the final leg of the show. Played by Nick Cosgrove, who gives an impressive transformation of Valli from youthfulness to maturity, Valli’s story perhaps best communicates the heartbreak of lost relationships among families at home and families on the road. So, too, however Cosgrove fully imparts Valli’s love of the music, a theme at the core of Jersey Boys.
The music is the reason for the show, and this production does not disappoint. Andrus, Cosgrove, Dromard, and Kappus are powerful vocalists, skilled in their harmonies, and impressively able to capture the soul of each arrangement. Cosgrove carries the major burden as Valli, who had one of the most distinct voices of the twentieth century, but he does so ably, imparting the quality of Valli’s signature intonation without trying to mimic exactly. The four leads are well supported by a talented ensemble that was only once marred by a surprisingly bad rendition of “My Boyfreind’s Back” by the three female cast members. Otherwise, the trio of actresses give impressive performances, quickly alternating in what must amount to dozens of costume-changes from mothers to girlfriends, from daughters to prostitutes, from waitresses to dancers, and more. The list of female roles in the play gives some idea of the peripheral focus women have in the production. It is, after all, titled Jersey Boys.
The title of the musical also gives sense of self-conscious use of stereotype in the play. The typical Italian/Catholic/mob/Jersey personality is well-represented. Sometimes it is done so in a way that is humorously self-effacing. At other points it is used for cheap, eye-rolling laughs (like when mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, played by Thomas Fischella, cries during a song reminding him of his mother) or as a convenient crutch (when the reverent Catholic Father bursts out at a funeral with such banal dialogue as “Do not blame yourself, my son.”) These moments aside, the musical is smartly written, adeptly hitting the most important high and low notes of the career of The Four Seasons in a way that doesn’t feel rushed, despite the 2 hour 35 minute run-time largely filled with music.
So, too, Brickman and Elice are able to make the story of The Four Seasons transcend their particular place in history. Despite the number of middle-aged audience members in the audience, it is an all-appealing musical. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be some delight and recognition from those better able to remember the clothing styles of that era, brightly brought to the stage by costume designer Jess Goldstein. So, too, the moves the men use in their song performances will bring amusement to an audience now accustomed to the almost-acrobatic dances now utilized by today’s boy bands. For the skilled manifestation of the minimal synchronized choreography of this era, Sergio Trujillo deserves high praise. While footage of the time period gives an impression of boring hand and foot action, Trujillo gives The Four Seasons choreography that is purposefully nostalgic but also full of vitality that erupts into dynamism when broken free from the confines of period-constrained performance. McAnuff’s direction is similar. He has expertly fashioned a show that knows when to hold back and when to let lose at all the right moments.
Jersey Boys at the Capitol Theatre is, simply, a great Broadway night out, satisfying in its music, acting, scope, and production elements. It’s a fun way to start the summer theatre season. And, while it is certainly not a musical that prompts deep intellectual discussions, it is a musical that makes you want to know more. I’m guessing more than a few audience members will go home to Google and YouTube, hungry for a little more.