Bondo Wyszpolski

Four Seasons music bio is one for the ages

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Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio, Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, Mark Ballas as Frankie Valli, and Keith Hines as Nick Massi, performing “Sherry.” Photo by Jim Carmody

Always in Season

“Jersey Boys” – a review

by Bondo Wyszpolski

It’s been lighting up the Ahmanson Theatre for a few weeks, but for anyone who’s never seen “Jersey Boys” time is growing short in order to experience one of the deservedly successful musicals of this century.

It’s the story of an East Coast pop group whose biggest hits exploded in 1962 and 1963 (songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man”) and then continued to hit the charts until the end of the decade, before the group’s interpersonal troubles got the best of it and before Frankie Valli went on to a career of his own as a solo artist.

The irony is that one would probably never have placed bets on a musical about the Four Season, but rather gambled it all on the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles (“Backbeat,” a musical focusing on the Hamburg years of the Beatles, was competent, even good, but hardly grand). “Jersey Boys,” however, isn’t just a jukebox musical, a parade of hit songs; it’s grounded with a compelling storyline, and not just because the emphasis or point of view travels from one member of the group to the next. One might almost say that the real voice of this work comes to us courtesy of the book writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. They shaped the story into something both cohesive and compelling.

Mark Ballas as Frankie Valli, Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio, Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, and Keith Hines as Nick Massi, performing “Walk Like a Man.” Photo by Jim Carmody

The current Ahmanson show isn’t the first time “Jersey Boys” has played there. After it won four Tony Awards in 2006 it made its way out West in one touring version or another. The 2007 premiere at the Ahmanson was quite stunning, made even more so at the end when the surviving members of the group were brought on stage.

Since then, “Jersey Boys” has returned, to the Pantages and to Segerstrom Hall, and of course it was the subject of a film directed by Clint Eastwood in a script reworked by Brickman and Elice.

At the opening of the current revival, Frankie Valli was again in the audience, and afterwards he again made an onstage appearance, not surprisingly to thunderous applause.

Cracks and fissures in the band: Keith Hines as Nick Massi, Mark Ballas as Frankie Valli, Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, and Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio. Photo by Jim Carmody

Now, I imagine that Frankie Valli, at age 83, has seen the show dozens of times. I can’t help but wonder what goes through his mind each times he watches it. It’s safe to say that he’s largely pleased, not least because it’s revitalized his late career and elevated his former group to the highest echelons of pop stardom and musical immortality (more so than the band being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990). He’s got to be hugely grateful for that.

From what I’ve read, Frankie Valli claims the musical is 95 percent accurate, but feels that there’s a lot more that could have been said. If he’s not quite as pleased with Eastwood’s take that’s because he thought the cinematic version would delve more deeply into the relations and personalities of the group instead of pretty much adhering to what was onstage. He has said there’s enough material for a “Jersey Boys 2,” but that (I think) will be best served by an autobiography.

The present incarnation features Mark Ballas as Frankie Valli, Matthew Dailey as Nick DeVito, Keith Hines as Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio, with Barry Anderson as record producer Bob Crewe and Thomas Fiscella as mobster Gyp DeCarlo. No complaints about any of them, on top of which it’s hard to compare those in the leading roles with those who performed it in 2007. I’d say the latter was the better ensemble, but then that opinion may be colored by the fact that for this reviewer the show was brand new.

And here’s the “Jersey Boys” cast performing the finale. Photo by Jim Carmody

“Jersey Boys” is more entertainment than art, a dip into nostalgia for many people, perhaps even for those who weren’t around to appreciate the group during its heyday. But what keeps it afloat and should continue bolstering it for years to come is the timeless story it embodies of youthful ambition, stardom, and the inevitable strains that success of such magnitude places on everyone involved. There’s a wonderful arc in how this is presented. It’s a universal tale, but in this case the stars in the heavens really did align and all the pieces fell into place. That’s rare, and it’s the reason why this work has been and continues to be as poignant as it is popular.

Jersey Boys is onstage at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Avenue, downtown Los Angeles in the Music Center. Performances through Sunday, June 24 (including Monday, June 19, which is normally dark, and with an added 2 p.m. show on Thursday, June 22). Monday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets, $25 to $125. Call (213) 972-4400 or go to CenterTheatreGroup.org. ER

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