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Archive for May, 2011

Jersey Boys

Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Music by Bob Gaudio, Lyrics by Bob Crewe

Directed by Des McAnuff

Fox Theatre, St. Louis

May 13, 2011

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This isn’t just a review of Jersey Boys, the US tour of the Broadway production. It’s a story of a whole experience, thanks to a wonderful promotional contest that the Fox Theatre has started called Tweet Seats, and all you need to be able to win is a smart phone with a Twitter app.  What happens is that you fill out a form on the Fox website and then tweet about the show on Twitter using a specific hashtag for the show (this one being #JBstl). The contest Powers That Be then pick 10 winners, who are each given two tickets to the show.  At the show, the winners are expected to bring their phones and tweet about the show at least three times during the evening.  We all sat together in the back corner of the orchestra section, and it was fun to sit there tweeting and watching so many people around me with their phones out, tweeting away before the show, during intermission and after.  At intermission, the PR folks from the Fox came and invited us to an after-show party with the cast. More about that later, but it was a really fun evening.  My husband and I had a wonderful time, got free tickets, free food and drinks at the party, and got to see a really great show.  Next time the Fox does this contest, I’m definitely entering again.

As my husband and I took our seats in the back corner of the auditorium, I was reminded of just how huge the Fox Theatre is.  The ornately decorated auditorium seems to go on forever, and the stage is nothing short of enormous. Jersey Boys has a relatively small cast and simple set, but it filled the large Fox stage very well, and the only issue I had with the view was when a large group of latecomers arrived about 15 minutes into the show and blocked our view for a few minutes while they were looking for their seats.  Aside from that, we had no problems seeing and hearing all the action on stage.

Before I saw this show, I didn’t know much about Jersey Boys except that it was a “jukebox” musical that tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  I don’t generally get excited about jukebox musicals, but I had read and heard very good things about this one, and I was familiar with a lot of the music, so I decided to give this one a try, and I’m glad I did.  I thought the show was structured and scripted very well, with each of the original Four Seasons–Tommy DeVito (Matt Bailey), Bob Gaudio (Quinn Van Antwerp), Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) and Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie)–taking turns narrating the story from the group’s early beginnings until the present day. It plays out as kind of a “Behind the Music” style “warts and all” treatment of the group’s beginnings performing in nightclubs in their New Jersey neighborhood and on to their rise to national fame and all the trials and tribulations that went with it.   The songs, Four Seasons classics such as “Sherry”, “Walk Like a Man” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and others, as well as other hits of the era, were incorporated into the story seamlessly, and I was particularly touched by the scene in which the Seasons sing (“Cry For Me”) with keyboardist/songwriter Bob Gaudio for the first time, discovering their “sound” as a group.

The performances were convincing all around, and the actors playing the Four Seasons did an excellent job of recreating the sound of the group, as well as portraying their lives offstage.  The standouts in my eyes were Van Antwerp, who was charming and sympathetic as Bob Gaudio, and  Bwarie as Frankie Valli, who did a convincing job of not only sounding like Valli but also portraying the character’s aging through the course of the story.  It would be very easy, in a show like this, for the performers to come across as just a Four Seasons tribute act, but the strength of the performances and the strong writing make it a believable, truly involving story.  I also thought the performance scenes, from studio recording sessions to television performances to live concert appearances, were very cleverly staged, as we were able to see the band from all angles, sometimes accompanied by a video screen.

It was a very enjoyable, high-energy performance, and the audience was extremely energetic as well.  Several of the songs were followed by lengthy applause, and there was an immediate, full standing ovation at the end. Our fellow TweetSeaters seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as well, and again I noticed that we all had our phones out following the performance, happily tweeting our reactions.

After the show was over, the PR people came back and escorted us into the lobby to record our reactions to the show, and then took us upstairs where we enjoyed a fun little reception with the cast.  There wasn’t much mingling because everyone was seated at tables, but there were snacks and an open bar, and it was fun to just sit there, talk about the show and soak up the atmosphere.  Afterwards, it was fun to walk out into the huge, ornate, empty lobby and take in the sheer size of it as an usher directed us through the lobby, into the auditorium and out the stage door (because the front doors were locked by that point).

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable experience, and I highly recommend the Tweet Seats promotion.  I also recommend the show, especially to fans of the music.  It’s a truly entertaining, well-performed show that I would definitely see again if I had the opportunity.

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Steph Fearon signs CDs at Dress Circle

This post is more of a vent than anything else.  I saw the news on Twitter this morning about one of my favorite shops in London being in trouble, and so even though I don’t think my blog gets enough readers for this to make much of a difference, I had to write something about it.  In  a nutshell, Dress Circle is a wonderful theatre shop that may have to close if they don’t find some investors within the next few weeks. Here’s the story from The Stage, a London theatre newspaper and website:

http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/32129/exclusive-west-end-showbiz-shop-fights-to

Dress Circle is a musical theatre book/music shop in the heart of London’s theatre district, the West End.  It is a very small two-level space with a cozy atmosphere, and practically every square inch of wall space that is not occupied by merchandise shelves is covered with theatre posters and paraphernalia.  You don’t even have to talk to anyone to feel the theatre-aficionado vibe that oozes out of every nook and cranny of this place.  It is so much fun to browse the many shelves of popular and hard-to-find cast albums and performers’ CDs, as well as engaging in conversation with the highly knowledgeable staff and customers (well, mostly overhearing it on my part as I browsed the shelves).  I went there twice on my recent trip to London and I still count it as among the highlights of my time there.  I’m sure that if I lived there, I would be a regular customer, and although I have no clue when I will ever get back to London, the idea of this shop’s not being there when I do return is very sad.

I’ve read a few comments on some theatre message boards that have bothered me a little, because they seem to miss the point.  Basically, some people are saying that this shop was bound to close because of how the times have changed and the fact that more people are buying their CDs and books online at cheaper prices.  Some still seem sad that the shop may close, but others are more callous.  The thing is, a lot of these people don’t seem to get the idea that this place is much more than just a store to buy stuff.  It’s a gathering place for theatre people—fans, performers, composers, writers, and anyone else involved in the world of musical theatre in London.  It’s fun to hear and participate in the conversations that go on in the shop about various shows and theatre happenings in the city.  The shop also often hosts CD signings and special performances, and it’s a great resource for finding out what’s going on in the London theatre scene, with its many posters, flyers and magazines.

When I was there in March, I had the pleasure of attending a CD signing event for Stephanie (“Steph”) Fearon, who was a semi-finalist on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most recent  BBC talent show Over the Rainbow.  There was such a fun buzz in the shop as the small area was packed to the rafters with fans, as well as some of Steph’s friends and family.  We were treated to a short performance as well, and as all the people lined up outside the store and headed down the stairs for the signing, various conversations about musical theatre were going on around me and there was such a general air of excitement.  The shop has hosted many such signings over the years, featuring both well-known established performers and young up-and-coming talents.  It would be wonderful if these events would be able to continue.

Earlier in the week, I had visited the shop with a friend and had a much quieter but still extremely enjoyable experience as I was able to take time browsing the shelves and taking in the atmosphere of the place.  I ended up buying four CDs and picking up some show flyers and theatre magazines, and I had a much more fun time than I would have had if I had just ordered the CDs online.  There’s just something about a small, independent shop like this that so supports the thriving theatre industry in London that is such a joy to be a part of.  It’s a small, unassuming place, but it is a real treasure.

If anyone who reads this would like to help get the word out, you can follow @DressCircleShop on Twitter, as well as joining the “Save Dress Circle” page on Facebook and sharing these links with your friends.  Also, if you’re in London, go there!  Browse for a while and buy something.  Dress Circle is a London institution and a truly unique place.  I encourage theatre fans everywhere (whether in London or not) to help spread the word so that maybe they will find the financial support they need that will allow them to stay open and continue providing such great merchandise and delightful atmosphere to theatre fans from around the world. I love this shop, and I hope it will remain open for many, many years to come.

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