Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Jersey Boys chronicles the true story of the music group the Four Seasons, from their not-so-angelic beginnings to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice moves along at a brisk pace and contains excellent humor. Unlike many jukebox musicals that incorporate the songs of a particular artist or group, Jersey Boys contains a gritty and gripping plot with well-rounded characters. This biographical musical could have easily whitewashed the more unsavory aspects of these individuals. But it's the stark accounts of how the group found success despite a start marred by prison time for a few members, as well as encounters with drugs, adultery, the death of loved ones, and financial despair, that give the story balance and intrigue. Brickman and Elice also wisely use narration divided into four parts (spring, summer, fall, winter) to represent the rise and fall of the group, with each of the four original band members taking one season.
The songs associated with the Four Seasons, most with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, are extremely well known to baby boomers, which make up a large majority of typical theatergoers. Most of the songs are heard here as performance numbers, though a few, such as "December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" and "My Eyes Adored You," are smartly woven into the story's plot in an unforced manner. Other musical highlights include "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." This more organic use of the songs within the context of the musical is what makes Jersey Boys successful in ways that didn't work for other similar shows.
The cast for this touring production is uniformly strong. As Frankie Valli, Jon Hacker (a graduate of Dayton's Wright State University) provides a well-rounded character and demonstrates vocal dexterity, expertly matching Valli's famous falsetto voice. Corey Greenan is humorous as Tommy DeVito, conveying the street-wise and gruff attitude of the founder of the band. Michael Milton captures the droll, tightly wound personality of Nick Massi with a funny deadpan delivery. On opening night, some of his low notes weren't as strong as expected, but he is a solid singer overall. Eric Chambliss is extremely appealing as songwriter Bob Gaudio, portraying him as an easygoing, intelligent artist with boyish charm, and showing off a beautiful, pure singing voice in his solo turns. The talented ensemble all portray multiple characters with distinct characterizations and displaying great skill.
Director Des McAnuff provides a non-stop pace and visually pleasing stage pictures throughout the show, with extremely smooth transitions from scene to scene. Sergio Trujillo's Tony Award winning, active choreography wonderfully captures the moves associated with the 1950s and '60s groups, but with modern day theatrical flair and precision. Michael Kaish leads a great-sounding onstage band.
Klara Zieglerova's metal, two-tier unit set, featuring a fence that doubles as a scrim, is surprisingly versatile and evokes prison, stage, and New Jersey blue collar settings alike. Clever cartoon projections are stylishly presented by Michael Clark. Howell Binkley's lighting is professionally rendered, and the many costumes by Jess Goldstein are appropriately flashy, attractive, and period-appropriate.
Since its last visit to Cincinnati, Jersey Boys has moved from Broadway to Off-Broadway in New York. However, the touring production remains strong, with instant song recognition from the core theatergoing audience, a smartly constructed story, and perfectly suited direction and choreography. In addition, this production boasts a talented and hard-working cast.
Jersey Boys runs through October 20, 2019, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.jerseyboysinfo.com.