A correction was made to this review on Dec. 20, 2006.
Any fears that the popular appeal of “Jersey Boys” might dwindle with each mile’s distance from Hackensack were allayed by the first touring edition’s opening-night audience in San Francisco, which greeted the show with a hysteria once reserved for the Four Seasons themselves. The group’s undeniably terrific hit parade aside, the reason this particular jukebox musical’s triumphs where so many others failed remains a mystery — at least in terms of stage artistry. But there’s no denying the thing works. This solid new-cast road clone of the Broadway original should be packing ’em in for the foreseeable future.
Packagewise, the only (barely) notable change to Des McAnuff’s staging is that the periodic overhead images were actual projections in New York, while now they come via technologically advanced LED screens.
That’s not exactly a startling shift; indeed, given the long touring and regional shelf life “Jersey Boys” should enjoy, one looks forward to future directorial interpretations that depart from McAnuff’s slickly functional, rather bare-bones one — it’s surely one of the plainer hit Broadway musicals in recent memory. Still, the constant motion created by blocking, simple set design (Kara Zieglerova), and Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s pedestrian yet incredibly brisk book guarantee there’s nary a dull moment — even when the ear is being given a rare rest.
Of course, the main attraction here is purely musical, anything else being mere window-dressing. On that count, cast harmonies are well-honed, arrangements excellent, sound mix generally ditto in that loud-but-not-too-loud way that so often eludes touring shows. And the parade of early-’60s chart toppers penned by Seasons member Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe (whose role as lyricist somehow doesn’t surface in the script) remains a joy.
As Frankie Valli, Christopher Kale Jones’ sound doesn’t resemble the original in his lower range, but he’s got the requisite easy falsetto and puppyish appeal. Deven May makes an immediate strong impression as group founder Tommy DeVito, whose gambling debts, mismanagement and bullying finally drive the quartet apart.
Equally solid are Erich Bergin’s Gaudio, the unit’s more sophisticated and business-savvy participant, and Michael Ingersoll as Nick Massi, a stock “stand-up guy” who withholds his feelings until they explode in sudden garrulous candor.
All subsidiary figures are one-note but well turned, with John Altieri’s tres gay Crewe, Joseph Siravo’s not-so-bad goodfella Gyp DeCarlo and Jackie Seiden as Frankie’s harpy of a first wife leading the support staff of 10.
There’s little surprising or ingenious about “Jersey Boys,” whose only major clever touch lies in dividing the narration among each of the Four Seasons by turn. But as the characters might have said, this ain’t a show for highbrows — nor does it pander excessively to lowbrows, a maudlin moment or two aside.
With tunes as over-the-moon in both nostalgic and perennial value as “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Sherry,” etc., “Jersey Boys” doesn’t need an elaborate dramatic construct. A rote biographical timeline and polished but unfussy staging is quite enough.
This touring edition is like ordering pizza from your usual delivery joint: Haute cuisine it isn’t, but you know just what you’re getting and that it tastes good.