By Pam Harbaugh
Add an enthusiastic audience shooting to its feet and whooping out its approval and a musical transcends into something more immediate. That’s the case of Riverside Theatre’s not-to-be-missed production of Jersey Boys, now running through Jan. 28 at the Vero Beach theatre.
For people who grew up swinging to Frankie Valli, the musical whips you back to the 1960s and you relieve those teenage years rocking to “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and the whole gamut of tunes that made the Four Seasons such an iconic group.
But this is much more than a typical “jukebox” musical. Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the duo who wrote the book to The Addams Family, there’s a well-crafted story with behind-the-scenes glimpses into the rise of four remarkable musicians from street toughs into world-class stars.
The show opened on Broadway in 2005 and ran for a remarkable 12 years, receiving multiple award nominations and winning, among others, the Tony for Best Musical.
The plot begins in crime-ridden Belleville, New Jersey. It’s the early 1960s and petty crook Tommy DeVito wants a way out. As he says to the audience, “You from my neighborhood you got three ways out. You could join the Army, you could get mobbed up, or you could become a star.” After he is released from jail for burglary, DeVito puts together a group, taking on Valli. Soon, with the help of friend Joe Pesci, he also hires songwriter Bob Gaudio who wrote “Short Shorts” and worries he’s a one-hit wonder.
They struggle and finally, in 1962, after a litany of doors have slammed shut in their faces, Gaudio writes “Sherry” and the group takes off, creating more than 25 hits in only five years.
More story lines involve love, mounting success, betrayal, more crime and parenthood. We see the rise, fall and rise again was not a smooth one and, in fact, had plenty of heartbreak.
But make no mistake, the audience is there for the music and this tight-paced production, directed by Gayle Seay, delivers. And no wonder, Seay has done it all and continues to do so—from performing to casting to producing. She knows how to please an audience. Don’t be surprised to see a sea of seniors in the audience rising to their feet and dancing to songs like “Walk Like a Man,” “Let’s Hang On” and “Who Loves You?”
The cast is terrific as they sail so musically through the songs, with the music directed by Michael Kaish. They also deliver tight precision in choreographer Dena DiGiacinto’s dance moves.
And more than dancing and singing, this foursome forges appealing characters. Brent DiRoma brings a steamy toughness to Tommy DeVito. Jason Michael Evans shows us the funny side to Nick Massi. Danny McHugh is spot on as Bob Gaudio, who is not only a musical talent but also has show-biz savvy.
As expected, the character of Frankie Valli looms largest. In that role, Trevor James is so winning musically and compelling dramatically. Not only is his voice spot on, he also finds that showstopping stage presence, especially in “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” You can’t you’re your eyes off of him.
Peter Barbieri creates an industrial kind of set evocative of the blue-collar era that gave rise to the Four Seasons. He uses that same aesthetic to suggest a couple of cars on stage—always a challenge for a scenic designer.
Costume designer Brad Musgrove brings a solid array of those Jersey-style “threads.” Julie Duro’s lighting design leads our focus perfectly and Craig Beyrooti’s sound design is as exact as the musical performances on stage.
The only thing we wanted more of were the real behind the scene musicians—the pit orchestra who make an appearance as a bit of an afterthought at the end of the show. They are so perfect we want to actually see them sooner and more fully.
There’s so much to enjoy in this show. It is fun, musical, and very nostalgic for a time when beat, melody and lyrics were king.
This is a version of Pam Harbaugh’s review running in Vero News.
Jersey Boys runs through Jan. 28 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Wednesdays, select Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets start at $45. For more information, call 772-231-6990 or visit RiversideTheatre.com.