Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA
Nov. 10 to 12, 2017 – matinees Saturday and Sunday
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicksbiz.com
Jersey Boys, at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium for a far-too-short run of five shows between Friday November 10 and Sunday November 12, 2017, , is just as much the dazzling, interesting nostalgia trip today as it was in its Broadway debut 12 years ago.
The nostalgia is the canon of songs from Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons – Frankie holding some kind of record of 40 hit songs over a career that has spanned five decades. (Valli, at 83, continues to perform with his remarkable voice still intact.)
In this show, the hits just keep coming: Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk like a Man, December 1963, Dawn, Big Man In Town, Let’s Hang On, Bye Bye Baby, C'mon Marianne, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Working My way Back to You, Fallen Angel, Rag Doll and then, years and years later, Valli’s last No. 1 hit song, the title track to the movie Grease in 1978.
The Valli/Four Seasons music, as one character says, is a chapter of American pop culture unto itself.
But it’s way more than songs, this Jersey Boys.
It’s the real story – and every scene in this touring Broadway show seems to be reality based – behind the band and its music.
It’s every cliché about the Italian/Mafia/loyalty/poor neighbourhoods of New Jersey – across the river but a million miles away from New York City and Manhattan. It’s The Sopranos, The Godfather, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci … and the story is so true that movie star Pesci, today 74, actually was a pesky teenager hanging out with the earliest versions of what become the Four Seasons.
The story line itself is probably not that different from the stories behind every one of the great pop/rock bands born of the ‘60s - the friendships, betrayals, excessive lifestyles, money, lack of money, women, the business, the endless miles, the notorious inability of almost all these people to have anything close to a “normal” life but above all, the love of the music itself …
The difference here is that this story is not white-washed. The actual impetus for Jersey Boys came from within. Valli’s life-long musical sidekick and band member Bob Gaudio had gone on to become, behind the scenes, one of America’s leading songwriters and producers.
With the success of ABBA’s Mamma Mia as a “jukebox musical” in 1999, Gaudio thought the Four Seasons’ story had similar potential – especially since the band, despite its extraordinary success, was consistently overshadowed in the popular culture of its day by the British Invasion – The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who etc.
Three of the key characters, Valli, his songwriter/performer sidekick Bob Gaudio, the original band founder/hustler Tommy DeVito, were willing to sit down and willingly tell ALL their stories to scriptwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The only direct point of view missing was vocalist Nick Massi who quit the band after its earlier success in 1965, and had died from cancer in 2000, aged 73.
So while much of the Jersey Boys story is told in broad, cartoonish strokes, it’s real.
The hustling, the brushes with the law, the internal power struggles, the teenage romances and subsequent marital and family break-ups, the vagaries of the music business, the dynamics of musical direction and sheer survival, the deep bonds of New Jersey friendship and allegiance tested by selfishness, the intuitive underlying tension that two of the band members – Valli and Gaudio – were the true talent, while DeVito and Massi were basically lucky to be along for the ride.
What’s extraordinary about the musical Jersey Boys is the careful casting.
Every production, including this one, is so compelling that you actually let yourself believe it’s actually Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio up on that stage, not musical actors Jonny Wexler and Tommaso Antico. The surrounding members of the cast do an excellent job moving through dozens of walk-on characters– as often as not police officers arresting one band or another for minor criminal infractions.
It’s a wonderfully entertaining, humourous and truthful evening of pop music culture. With tickets available in the $25 to $80 range (depending on the website), it’s one of best bargains of Edmonton’s musical theatre season.