Move over Jersey Shore slackers and Real Housewives of New Jersey: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are the ones who really put New Jersey on the map — and in the best possible way.
“Jersey Boys,” the Tony Award-winning celebration of that quartet’s rise, fall and rise again from the 1960s to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame some 25 years later, is a brash, energetic, joyous, sometimes poignant — and sometimes hilariously profane -— memory play that touches all the highs and lows of coping with unexpected success.
And this touring version from Theater League, now playing at Century II Concert Hall, is an absolute must-see, even if you don’t consider yourself a particular fan of the quartet’s lush and romantic harmonies. It’s a giddy, gritty charmer with show-stopping performances by its four exceptional leads, particularly Brad Weinstock as Valli with his clear, soaring and powerful falsetto.
But it also takes the cool bass of Brandon Andrus as stoic Nick Massi, the antsy energy of Colby Foytik as full-of-himself Tommy DeVito and the mellow equilibrity of Jason Kappus as song-writing genius Bob Gaudio to flesh it all out.
The scene where the distinctive Four Seasons’ sound finally comes together for the first time during a medley of The Big Three — “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” — is an electrifying showstopper.
Put together by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (plus input from Valli and Gaudio) with a musical heartbeat from more than 30 Four Seasons songs, “Jersey Boys” is not a strict biography. And it’s certainly not a valentine — not with the various members’ proclivity for petty crimes, mob connection, cheating on girlfriends, wives and other guys’ wives plus the usual drugs, drinks and double-crosses associated with the music industry.
It’s a heartfelt, warts-and-all portrait of four blue-collar guys from a tough neighborhood where there were only three ways to escape: the Army, mobbing up or becoming a star. Thankfully for us, they only flirted with the first two before finding their American Dream.
Their story is cleverly told in four sections, four “seasons” if you will, as each member recounts the truth the way he remembers it. Each has his own reasons for thinking he was key to the success of the group, and during a sort of “American Graffiti” epilogue, each reveals how their lives came out after the original group broke up. It’s a deeper, more dramatic, more emotional story than you might expect behind the bouncy music and spiffy coordinated outfits.
The show is efficiently directed Des McAnuff with a brisk pace, but without seeming rushed. Fascinatingly, the point of view bounces all over the stage in almost a cinematic way, sometimes with characters turning their backs so we get a privileged look over their shoulders. There are even instances where the singers perform before live TV cameras for scenes on “American Bandstand” and “Ed Sullivan Show,” which are projected behind them to give us two simultaneous views.
The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is almost constant, whether the guys are performing structured moves in unison or whether just walking across the stage casually shifting props or changing costumes without missing a dialogue beat. It’s a show that moves so smoothly and entertainingly that it’s over long before we are ready to go home.