Review: Audience peaks with Theatre Aspen’s ‘Jersey Boys’
Special to Aspen Times
First performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004 before hitting Broadway in 2005, “Jersey Boys” brings the story of The Four Seasons’ rise to and fall from fame to the stage in a documentary style format. With music by Bob Gaudio, an original member of the Four Seasons, lyrics by Bob Crewe and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, this jukebox musical delivers both musically and dramatically.
Bridging the formation of the group in 1950 through their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, “Jersey Boys” is a musical experiment in the Rashman effect allowing inconsistent interpretations of events and multiple perspectives.
For the book, each surviving member of The Four Seasons was interviewed for their remembered version of events, and rather than seamlessly flattening each telling into a coherent story, the contradictions of personal memory are allowed to shine.
Tommy DeVito, played by Nick Bernardi, is the first storyteller. “This whole thing started with me!” he crows, chest puffed and head high. Tommy weaves the tale of the group that would become The Four Seasons as it is built despite jail time, arguments and a healthy amount of grift. The band changes sound and names (and costumes!) as quickly as Tommy spends money.
The clean-cut and likable Bob Gaudio (Alex Ross), a soft-spoken teen quoting T.S. Elliot, takes over the narration and immediately proves that while he is young, he is not to be taken advantage of. Bob brokers deals in Bob’s favor, recognizing Frankie Valli’s rising star, creating a two-man deal within the group held together through the decades on the promise of a handshake alone. The band is launched to fame through Bob’s writing of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man” while simultaneously the band’s marriages and families wither and crumble.
Nick Massi (Jason Michael Evans) appears from the shadows as the quiet observer, unwilling to let his story be told by anyone other than himself. It is through Nick’s eyes the audience learns of the consequences of Tommy’s deep debt, and Frankie spearheading the payment for Tommy, but also for the sake of the group. Nick is tired and heeds the call of the neighborhood. With resolve rather than defeat he announces, “I just want to go home.”
Taking over the narration, Frankie Valli (Trevor James) shares his confusion about Nick’s departure, never understanding why anyone would want to leave. Frankie and Bob find replacements for Tommy, who is under the watchful eye of the mob in Las Vegas, thanks to his debts and returned-home Nick to continue touring. Frankie is eventually convinced by Bob to go solo, singing Bob’s songs to their continued success.
It is nearly in the exact middle of the blistering 35 songs that the audience finally had a hard time containing their outright joy. With the first notes of “Sherry” came an electric excitement, bobbing heads and quiet yet audible singing along. As The Four Seasons hit their heyday, the audience peaked right along with them.
James’ “My Eyes Adored You” is the showstopper — his voice is plaintive, smooth and laced with sadness. This is that moment in theater that brings you back again and again, an experience so distinct that the strangers around you suddenly feel like a family collectively holding its breath for fear of shattering this brief collective moment in time.
Frankie’s first wife, Mary Delgado’s (Ana Marcu) clear and sweet voice joining Frankie’s weaves further depth with deliciously executed harmony.
Overheard intermission conversations consisted of sung and whistled lines of the last couple of numbers before the break, and wistful remembrances of “when I first heard this song…” There were even a few moments of croon eliciting applause from those gathered near a gentleman giving his own reprise of “Walk Like a Man.”
Two lovely women seated nearby gushed with just how much Trevor James sounds exactly like Valli, channeling that distinct falsetto that launched and held The Four Seasons, and then Valli solo in stardom. With beautiful, reminiscing grins lighting their faces, I was informed, “You’re too young to remember Frankie, but you should know, (Trevor) sounds just like him!”
Back for the second act, the energy remained high with now audible toe-tapping and cheers that were more and more exuberant with the vivacity and participation more like a concert than a theater outing. Strolling out under the stars and into the park after the show, several attendees were still singing their favorite tunes. Oh, what a night!
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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