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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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Mike Isaacson

The Muny revealed the lineup for their historic 100th season today, and I was honored to be invited to attend the press conference making the announcement. It looks like the Muny has a lot of exciting events in store to celebrate this milestone year, and as I sat there listening to the announcements, I found I was listening not just as a “member of the press”, but as a fan for whom St. Louis is my adopted hometown. I’ve been seeing shows at the Muny since my family and I first moved here in 2004, and in a fun coincidence, the first show I saw there is one that will also be part of the Muny’s 100th season.

The are many great shows and events planned for next year, as announced by the Muny’s Marketing and Communications director Kwofe Coleman and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson, following introductory remarks by the Muny’s President and CEO, Dennis Reagan. In addition to the lineup of seven musicals, there will be parties, an exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, and a documentary on HCTV as well as Judith Newmark’s continued “Muny history” article series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For more information, see the Muny 100 page on their official website.  Now, on to the list!

Dates and exact order will be announced at a later date, but the full line-up of shows is as follows:

Jerome Robbins’ Broadway

The Wiz

Singin’ In the Rain

Annie

Gypsy 

Jersey Boys

Meet Me in St. Louis

I have a lot of thoughts about this list, but for the most part, I think it’s a great lineup. In Isaacson’s introductions of the shows, he repeatedly talked about the Muny’s legacy and its historical reputation, as well as the idea of musical theatre as an American innovation. These are all American shows, with some having a long history at the Muny. There are two shows here, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and Jersey Boys, that will be regional theatre premieres. There are also time-honored classics and more modern classics. There’s also, as I mentioned above, the first show I ever saw at the Muny, Meet Me In St. Louis, which is an obvious choice considering what this show means for the history of this city.  It’s a lineup that is sure to appeal to a wide audience, as the Muny generally seeks to do, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Isaacson’s Muny will do with them. Also, while I’m familiar with all of these shows and have seen the movies and/or televised versions of six of them, I’ve only seen three of them live on stage before, so this will be a particularly interesting season for me to cover.  I’m looking forward to it, and to all of the various celebrations the Muny has in store for their 100th season.

 

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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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