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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 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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