In the summer of 2007, the first national tour of Jersey Boys came to the Ahmanson as a last minute replacement for a show that had run into copyright problems. What a bit of luck it turned out to be as Los Angeles greeted the Tony Award-winning musical with such ovation that the Center Theatre Group extended the run. Jersey Boys played Broadway from November 2005 until it closed in January of this year, making it the twelfth longest running show on the New York stage. It ran on London’s West End from 2008 through 2017. Japan, Australia, and Canada have all had wildly successful productions of this uniquely American story. Such endurance has brought a new tour back to the Ahmanson. What joy.
While this iteration does not carry quite the depth of Des McAnuff’s original production, it delivers all of the wonder of the story itself as well as the boggling scope and panache of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ music. Having grown up listening to hit after hit, my sister and I pooling our allowance quarters to buy each forty-five rpm single; then, later, as a radio personality playing those same gems on the air, I am a sucker for this show. Subjectivity and sentimentality aside, the sheer breadth of music that spans four-decades, Frankie Valli’s singular falsetto voice beautifully recreated by Mark Ballas, and the oh-so-surprising story make for a fantastic evening of, I’ll say it again, joy.
Unlike Mama Mia!, which contrived a story as a vehicle for the music of ABBA, the real-life events of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio carry along one of the most impressive song books of pop music. In fact, they produced so many hits, the Ahmanson Performances program lists “The Ones That Got Away”—memorable songs that didn’t make it into the show such as The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. You think you remember all of their hits, but little gasps of “oh right,” can be heard issuing from the audience as certain songs unfold. During one scene when the record company refuses to promote a particular new song, telling songwriter Bob Gaudio (Cory Jeacoma) that the song is “just not a hit,” I scratched my head trying to figure out what song it might be. It turned out to be one of the most beloved songs of their playbook (no spoilers here).
A dramaturge might quibble with the structure and style of the book, which jumps from direct narration to scene work, to the audience within the play, to the audience in the theatre, but no matter. It works. Why? Because of the music.
In addition to bringing Valli’s voice to life with fidelity and obvious affection, Mark Ballas shows off his Dancing With the Stars moves. Cory Jeacoma strikes a perfect note as the writing genius of the group Bob Gaudio; Keith Hines fully owns his endearing, goofy take of bassist Nick Massi; and Matthew Dailey delivers an antagonist you can’t help but like in guitarist Tommy DeVito. Lighting up every scene he bounces into, Barry Anderson is as sharp as the record producer (Bob Crewe) he depicts. When Jersey Boys was being conceived, family members of the mob boss Gyp DeCarlo pressed the writers to portray him with respect. Indeed, Thomas Fiscella never stoops to a goombah characterization of DeCarlo, in addition to playing several other ensemble roles with ease.
As my daughter, Grace, and I took our seats, I recounted how in 2007 Frankie Valli came out on stage during curtain call—how sweet it was to witness him witnessing his life. And sure enough , at 83 years of age, Valli greeted this opening night audience. Good for you, Frankie; you deserve a place on that stage.
Give yourself a respite from the world stage of news as seen through Facebook and treat yourself to the Ahmanson stage for fantastic evening with Jersey Boys.
Jersey Boys plays now through June 24th, 2017. Get your tickets here.
And run to the Mark Taper Forum for the final weekend of Rajiv Joseph’s brilliant new play, Archduke, with some of the finest performances of the Center Theatre Group’s season. Get tickets here.