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Jersey Boys
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio, Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed by Michael Hamilton
Choreographed by Dana Lewis
STAGES St. Louis
September 30, 2021

Jason Michael Evans, Brent Michael DiRoma, Christopher Kale Jones, Ryan Jesse
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis is closing out their 2021 season, and first at their shiny new venue, with their first production of the popular “jukebox” musical Jersey Boys. This is a show that never seems to fail to please an audience, with its story following the legendary Frankie Valli and the Four Season, and its score chock full of nostalgic hit songs. It’s also a great showcase for its titular quartet, providing they have the vocals and the personality for the roles–and at STAGES, they definitely do, supported by the first-rate production values for which this company is known.

This show has one of the stronger books for this type of show–the jukebox bio-musical. The story follows the original members of the Four Seasons, who take turns narrating as the show goes on, showing their trials and tribulations as the band rises from obscurity in their working class New Jersey neighborhood to worldwide fame and fortune. We also see the flaws and foibles of the individual members, as well as their strengths, starting with ambitious, bossy guitarist Tommy DeVito (Brent Michael DiRoma), then moving on to more business-minded but initially more personally sheltered keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Ryan Jesse), to quirky bassist Nick Massi (Jason Michael Evans), and finally to probably the most well-known of the group, the gifted vocalist Frankie Valli (Christopher Kale Jones). As the band evolves from a three-man act looking for a fourth, to a world-famous quartet, to renowned lead singer and his backing band, we see the early struggles, the personal conflicts, the battling egos, the personal triumphs and tragedies, and the more and less pleasant aspects of the characters’ personalities. All along the way we hear the memorable soundtrack of hit after hit after hit, from “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ and “Working My Way Back to You”. For the most part, this is a look at four guys and their music, although some of the characters are more likable than others, but the music is legendary. 

The casting is essential in this show, especially in terms of the Four Seasons themselves, and STAGES gets it right, as all four roles are ideally cast. DiRoma, who has been in several shows at STAGES before, is in excellent form as the cocky, bossy DeVito, and Evans has some memorable moments as the more eccentric, more introverted Massi. Jesse is also a standout in an amiable performance as Gaudio, and Jones, who has played Franki Valli on tour, is simply fantastic, managing to sound a lot like the real Valli and also portray his maturing through the years in a convincing way. All four work well together, as well, with a strong vocal blend and superb ensemble chemistry. There’s also a strong ensemble to support them, led by STAGES regulars John Flack and Steve Isom, both playing various roles, as well as Edward Juvier as producer/songwriter Bob Crewe, and Jenna Coker-Jones, Sarah Ellis, and Donna Louden as various women in the Four Seasons’ lives. There’s a strong ensemble, providing support, vocals, and energetic dancing–choreographed by Dana Lewis–as well. 

The staging by director Michael Hamilton is well-paced, and the smaller venue of STAGES works especially well for the more intimate nature of the scenes in which we see the group’s “personality” developing, as well as moments in the studio and in concert. The new venue works well here, as well as providing a space for a terrific on-stage band led by musical director Jeremy Jacobs. I hope STAGES continues to feature live music in its shows now that its venue allows for it. James Wolk’s two level set, along with Brad Musgrove’s colorful period-specific costumes, and Sean M. Savoie’s striking lighting, provide just the right tone and mood for the show, as the times move forward from the 1950s to several decades following. 

Even if you’re not overly familiar with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, their story and especially their songs are memorable. In fact, the songs just might be playing in your head for a few days after seeing this crowd-pleasing production at STAGES. It’s an ideally cast, well-presented look at an important group in the history of Rock ‘n Roll. 

Cast of Jersey Boys
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis is presenting Jersey Boys at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center until October 24, 2021

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Jersey Boys
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio, Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed and Choreographed by Josh Rhodes
The Muny
July 9, 2018

Nicolas Dromard, Keith Hines, Mark Ballas, Bobby Conte Thornton Photo: The Muny

The Muny has, over the course of its storied 100 year history, hosted several memorable concerts in addition to its traditional lineup of musical theatre and (originally) operetta. It’s been a while since the venue has hosted a rock concert, but its latest musical production, Jersey Boys, has the feel of a concert much of the time. Still, although it’s a “jukebox” show, it also has a strong book, telling the true story of a well-known American band with great production values and a stellar cast.

The story focuses on the legendary pop-rock group The Four Seasons. It’s a well-structured plot, narrated at turns by all four original members of the group: guitarist Tommy DeVito (Nicolas Dromard), keyboardist and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bobby Conte Thornton), bassist Nick Massi (Keith Hines), and lead vocalist Frankie Valli (Mark Ballas). As the title suggests, the story begins in a close-knit neighborhood in New Jersey, as a group of young, ambitious guys form friendships and a band, sometimes get in trouble with the law, navigate family struggles and romantic entanglements and eventually work their way up to the top of the charts as a world-famous band. The approach here doesn’t shy away from the more difficult aspects of the story or the people involved, the personality conflicts, trials and tribulations as well as some of the more problematic aspects of the times. The tag-team narrative approach serves the story well, as each “Season” gets to have his say, using the group’s impressive repertoire of classic hits to help advance the story as well as entertain in concert-style, complete with a thoroughly appreciative, enthusiastic audience. Iconic songs like “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “December 1963 (Oh, What a NIght)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, and “Working My Way Back to You” are represented well, with top-notch production values and a great, enthusiastic cast.

The Muny stage is great setting for this show. I’d seen the Broadway staging before on tour at the Fox, and that was great, but here, in the show’s regional world premiere, the staging and styling have been created specifically for the Muny. With a versatile multi-level platform set by Paul Tate dePoo III, the concert style is served well, as are the storytelling moments. There’s also dynamic lighting by Rob Denton and striking, effective video design by Matthew Young, along with some dazzling, colorful period-specific costumes by Andrea Lauer. The staging is energetic and well-paced, with great dance moves choreographed by director Josh Rhodes, and those great, memorable songs well-played by the excellent Muny orchestra led by music director Rick Bertone.

The Four Seasons are ideally cast here, with Dromard, Hines, Thornton, and Ballas recreating that distinctive sound credibly and impressively. They all sound great, with Ballas particularly standing out vocally, displaying Valli’s remarkable range and stage presence well. Dromard’s cocky, controlling DeVito is a standout as well, as are Hines’s quirky, enigmatic Massi and Thornton’s more quiet but ambitious and determined Gaudio. The relationships and group chemistry are believable, as well, and there are some especially great musical moments as the group develops their signature sound. There are also standout performances from Nicholas Rodriguez as music producer Bob Crewe, and Ben Nordstrom in various roles. There’s a strong, energetic ensemble, as well, each playing various roles and supporting the group in enthusiastic dance numbers. The look, sound, and style of the Four Seasons and their era–particularly in the 1960s–is well-represented in this excellent production.

Jersey Boys is grittier at times than what may be thought of as the “usual” Muny show. It has a sharp, well-structured book that makes it one of the best “jukebox” musicals that’s been produced, and of course, there are all those memorable hit songs. This is a big, flashy show with a good deal of substance along with the glitz, and the Muny has produced it about as well as I could imagine. It’s an excellent, complex and fascinating musical tribute.

Cast of Jersey Boys Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Jersey Boys in Forest Park until July 16, 2018

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