JERSEY BOYS

photo: Fran Ruchalski
photo: Fran Ruchalski
photo: Fran Ruchalski
photo: Fran Ruchalski
photo: Fran Ruchalski
photo: Fran Ruchalski

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Last week, The FSCJ Artist Series opened Jersey Boys, which won multiple Tony Awards in 2006 including Best Musical, followed by additional Best Musical awards in London and Melbourne. The current production at the Times Union Center’s Moran Theater will run through April 1. Call 632-3373 or visit www.artistseriesjax.org for tickets.
The Artist Series offers North Florida residents an opportunity to experience New York theatre adventure right in downtown Jacksonville without long security lines, baggage fees and expensive hotels. To plan your theatre adventure, start by purchasing tickets by phone or online. Plan to arrive downtown about two hours before the show to select one of the many downtown restaurants where you can sample a meal that you would not ordinarily have. Then proceed to the Times Union Center to be completely entertained for over two action-packed hours.
The Dual Critics have never seen Jersey Boys on Broadway (and it’s still running there), but we can’t imagine it being any better than this marvelous production in Jacksonville. Some folks have the idea that this is just a concert show, with four guys singing the greatest hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Wrong. Oh, sure, there are those fabulous songs, and parts of many others—34 to be exact, but writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have put together a totally mesmerizing story that gives the audience a picture of how this group made it to the top, beginning with four blue-collar guys singing on street corners and continuing with the trials and tribulations they experience as they succeed in making a living in a very competitive business.
In the early years, the group changed names as often as they changed underwear. They settled on “The Four Seasons” after Frankie Valli became the lead singer and Bob Gaudio joined the group. Gaudio was both a singer and a talented songwriter, while Bob Crewe contributed to their growing fame by providing lyrics and producing their records.
This account does not whitewash their personal lives. We learn of their marital problems, internal squabbles, and financial difficulties, which included overdue obligations to loan shark mobsters as well as IRS back taxes, after they had become stars.
The performances of Preston Truman Boyd (Bob Gaudio), Joseph Leo Bwarie (Frankie Valli), John Gardiner (Tommy Devito), and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi) electrified the stage; they are fine singers and excellent actors. There are 18 other cast members who play a variety of roles and are equally talented and impressive with their acting and singing.
The exciting scenic design starts with the set, framed in industrial steel, that includes ladders, catwalks and chain link panels. A background scrim depicts black silhouettes of factories, with smokestacks and power lines, against a vivid sunset sky. Many rapid scene changes follow, with set pieces and drops quickly moved on and off to keep this a fast-paced show with all those hit songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Earth Angel,” and “Walk Like a Man,” just to name a few.
The costumes for the guys ranged from casual street wear to restrained formal wear to the gaudy excess of Las Vegas lounge outfits. Costumes for the ladies who appeared – the wives, the lovers, the singers – were colorful, with authentic period styling. The producers obviously spared no expense to make this a first-rate production from top to bottom.
One of The Four Seasons hit songs is “Oh, What a Night,” and oh, what a night it was at the Moran Theater, with the wildly enthusiastic audience showing their appreciation with loud applause and cheers for all that musical perfection, song after song.
Bwarie’s performance as Valli was truly outstanding and, if you close your eyes when he is doing one of the solos with the famous Valli falsetto, you would swear it was Valli himself on that stage.
A sign in the lobby forewarns audiences that this show contains “Authentic Jersey Profanity,” and indeed it does, but considering the culture the four kids came from, its inclusion seems appropriate, although some may find it offensive. As noted on the ticketing website, the production is recommended for those 12 years and older.
Anybody who passes up the opportunity to see Jersey Boys will be missing what is considered by many one of the real great musicals in American theatre. With ticket prices starting as low as $28 dollars, it is certainly affordable and a chance to have your own New York theatre experience right here in the River City. As we exited the theatre, we heard nothing but praise for the show, with descriptors like terrific, stunning, tremendous, super, very humorous, and lots of fun. Many expressed a desire to come back and see it again before Jersey Boys closes on April 1. The final song in the show asks, “Who Loves You?” We can say without a doubt, Jacksonville loves you. Don’t miss it.

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