Everything Jersey has become popular again this decade, what with the sensations of the Italian mobster drama “The Sopranos” and the sleazy reality show “Jersey Shore.”
“Jersey Boys” mixes the Italian mafia undertones and “authentic, profane Jersey vocabulary” found in the above shows with the boisterous, vibrant sound of The Four Seasons, one of the biggest bands of the 1960s.
There’s nothing new or unique about this musical. It follows the standard for shows based on the music of famous bands/singers: the group comes together from humble beginnings on the streets of Newark, N.J.; they make their breakthrough and revel in their stardom; egos and families and other problems drive them apart; yet they come together once more in the end to remember the good old days and make their last performance count.
What makes “Jersey Boys” so memorable is the toe-tapping, sing-along hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Ragdoll” and “Oh, What A Night.” The story in between – let’s face it – is just fluff. There are some great moments, like Tommy DeVito’s vulgar tirades, Frankie Valli’s humble teenage beginnings and Bob Gaudio’s introduction to the sexual arts (“Oh, What A Night,” indeed). But what really counts is the music, and that is what the audience is there to see and hear. Every time the band began to play, audience members sat a little taller in their seats, trying to figure out which hit song would be played next.
Frankie Valli admits as much in his final monologue of the show, saying that what really stood out for him – beyond the hits and the records and the popularity and even being named into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – was the music: “when everything dropped away, and all there was was the music.”
And what music it was. Joseph Leo Bwarie, a pint-sized, baby-faced boy of a man, has the pipes and range to give the real Frankie Valli a run for his money. Bwarie’s smooth, crystal clear voice and soaring falsettos were the highlight of the evening (when he wasn’t overwhelmed by the overly loud band).
There are two climaxes in “Jersey Boys,” one in each act. The first act, after fumbling through the band’s seedy beginnings and early failures, gels in the one-two-three punch of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man.” Mimicking real stage performances, the group pauses after “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” to bask in the wonder of the roaring crowd.
In the second act,” Bwarie’s Valli shines in his solo hit, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” It’s difficult to say which Franki Valli is more popular: the sweet falsetto boy or the sultry, velvety man. Either way, he is the star of the show and the three other members of the Four Seasons are an ensemble supporting cast.
The show is divided up into the seasons of the band’s career, and each season (spring, summer, fall and winter, in that order) is narrated by a different member of the group, beginning with Tommy DeVito, played to crass Italian perfection by Matt Bailey. Bob Gaudio, played by a nerdy Ryan Jessie, takes over the narration when he joins the band and continues through the end of the first act. His solo turn on “Oh, What A Night” showcases his rich voice, which is sorely underused in the production.
Bass player Nick Massi, played by Broadway cast member Steve Gouveia, has his say during the band’s downfall in the second act, and Valli carries the narration through the formation of the new group: Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The show ends with the original Four Seasons performing at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where each member of the group has his own closing monologue on what the band meant to him.
The Civic Center audience jumped to its collective feet for a standing ovation at the Friday evening performance, which led to the company’s encore of “Oh, What A Night.” And that’s what it was: a night to revel in the music of a generation that still rings true today, as evidenced in the beginning of the show by the popularity of “Oh, What A Night,” which has seen several reincarnations over the decades.
“Jersey Boys” plays at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines through Sunday, July 25. Ticket prices range from $17.50 to $72.50.