‘Jersey Boys’ has the hits, and a captivating story to tell, too
BEVERLY — You don’t have to be a baby boomer, or even a Jersey native, to get swept up in the hook-laden hits of the Four Seasons. But what lifts “Jersey Boys” above most jukebox musicals is book writers’ Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s deftly woven stories featuring the sometimes-contradictory voices of each member of the ’60s pop band.
In the North Shore Music Theatre’s production, which runs through Sept. 1, director and choreographer Kevin P. Hill doesn’t seem confident North Shore’s arena stage can accommodate the show, and so has directed it using nearly non-stop spinning turntables. The result is unnecessarily dizzying and becomes a distraction from the drama behind the four unlikely Jersey boys who made it big.
With hits that include “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “My Eyes Adored You,” driven by Frankie Valli’s powerful falsetto, the Four Seasons defied the odds in so many ways. The band members — Valli (real name Frankie Castelluccio), songwriter-piano player Bob Gaudio, guitar player Tommy DeVito, and bassist Nick Massi — were high school dropouts whose options consisted of joining the Army or joining the mob. Instead, they rode a wave of success that tapped into the final days of doo-wop, survived the British Invasion, and even rose above the disco fray.
The music takes center stage, and it’s impossible to sit still when the drums kick in on “Who Loves You,” “Working My Way Back to You,” and even “Rag Doll.” But the chronological telling of the story, from the first hit, “Sherry” in 1962 (written in 15 minutes), to the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 (a long-delayed reunion of the original quartet), illuminates the behind-the-scenes drama driving the sometimes-prickly personalities of four young men unprepared for fame.
Jonathan Mousset Alonso (Frankie Valli), Andrés Acosta (Tommy DeVito), Luke Hamilton (Bob Gaudio), and Alex Puette (Nick Massi) deliver goofy, endearing performances as the individuals whose loyalty to one another is unquestioned, despite Valli and Massi’s family problems, and DeVito’s gambling debts. The scenes between songs offer insight and context for the challenges and tragedies that made these men both vulnerable and unstoppable. Barry Anderson hams it up appropriately as the group’s producer, Bob Crewe, a fellow New Jersey native who was instrumental in the Four Seasons’ success. Brickman and Elice, who interviewed the three surviving original Seasons for the musical’s 2005 Broadway debut, sprinkle just the right combination of humorous anecdotes, along with stories of some shady deals, to help us connect with these characters.
The pacing of the first act is fast and furious, setting up the Jersey boys’ origins as juvenile delinquents — OK, felons — the high stakes of failure, and their skill at capturing in music the emotions of working-class stiffs just like them. Also notable is the long-standing handshake agreement between Gaudio and Valli, a measure of trust and integrity unshaken by financial shenanigans, fame, or family chaos.
Onstage at the North Shore Music Theatre, director Hill is most successful when he embraces the arena. He places scenes in the studio control booth up in the audience, and later, positions the three horn players on “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” up on platforms encircling the stage for a dramatic emphasis.
Among the ensemble, David LaMarr deserves a special shoutout for his own standout falsetto. LaMarr tears it up in the final, full company performance of “Who Loves You.” Keep an eye out for this promising performer’s next appearance.
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Music by Bob Gaudio. Lyrics by Bob Crewe. Directed and choreographed by Kevin P. Hill. Music director, Milton Granger. Presented by the North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through Sept. 1. Tickets $38-$91, 978-232-7200, www.nsmt.org