Note: the following review is based on the May 21st evening performance when Aaron De Jesus and Austin Owen played the roles of Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, respectively.
Before Beatles-mania took over stateside, there was The Four Seasons, a band with dubious beginnings that nevertheless had that something special in their ability to compose and perform the perfect three-minute pop song.
The original members, including guitarist Tommy DeVito, bassist Nick Massi, keyboardist/primary songwriter Bob Gaudio, and of course falsetto crooner Frankie Valli, were disparate individuals (two had run-ins with the law) who happened to stay together long enough to make history and inspire several iterations of the group. With over 100 million records sold, and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction to cement their legacy, an inspired musical called the “Jersey Boys” was thus born in 2005, and is still going strong today, particularly at the Ahmanson Theatre where it’s scheduled to play through June 24th.
Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio, and lyrics by Bob Crewe, this is an energetic, well-paced show that invigorates the spirit by accurately portraying four guys and their respective narrative journeys that comprised a collective. The jammin’ rate at which the story and music flow is a credit to director Des McAnuff. Older audience members will tap their feet and smile – remembering a halcyon era – and younger folks will rock their heads, discovering a sound that is just as infectious today as it was when it dominated the airwaves several decades prior.
The production’s scenic design by Klara Zieglerova is simple but not simplistic, adding to the overall presentation without overwhelming it. The projections in the upper half of the stage also add an interesting aesthetic touch – with cartoonish artwork to represent certain scenes like a diner, bowling alley, and a courthouse. Along with an impressive list of songs that are covered by skilled performers who are clearly enjoying themselves throughout the musical, the two-and-a-half-hour running time feels like a quick jaunt.
As Frankie Valli (in place of Mark Ballas), Aaron De Jesus does a phenomenal job, making it look almost too easy at times. His effortlessness in being able to juggle dramatic acting with difficult singing and fluid movement on stage is astounding to watch — even more so when you realize that De Jesus had to work his way up to the top role of the musical, having initially portrayed Joe Pesci for three-and-a-half years in Las Vegas. De Jesus has an earnest sensibility and ruggedness to him that belies his smaller stature, making him stand out as a larger-than-life figure (just as Valli is) who earns the wholehearted support of the audience.
De Jesus hits Valli’s trademark high notes with a powerful resonance and uncanny pitch that would make any Four Seasons fan proud. From bullseying the vocal runs in “Walk Like A Man,” singing with a tenderhearted timbre during “Fallen Angel,” to pulling a microphone in split-second fashion from his coat pocket (following Valli’s breakup with his girlfriend, Lorraine), with nary a note that even dares to tremble imprecisely (e.g., during “Bye Bye Baby”), De Jesus is undoubtedly a pleasure to watch.
Austin Owen, who is listed as a swing in the program, steps in as hit-composer Bob Gaudio with a performance that is an eye-opening revelation. Owen is a monumental surprise, and a very pleasant one at that, as evidenced by an astronomical voice that has a terrific clarity, and which soars as high as the Ahmanson Theatre allows. This becomes quickly apparent during his character’s debut song – “Cry for Me” – and never lets up even when Owen’s Gaudio decides he would rather just write songs for Valli (based on a longstanding handshake deal between the two), as opposed to perform. Owen’s likability comes across with a genuineness that is reminiscent of Tom Hanks, and leaves a memorable impression on anyone lucky enough to have seen Owen portray Gaudio.
Keith Hines boasts terrific comedic prowess as Nick Massi, the band member who is hilariously not the best communicator, and has trouble expressing himself, though has his heart in the right place. Hines affects Massi’s voice in such a way that can be best described as an uproarious mix between the New York drawl of Fran Drescher and the stilted tone of Ben Stein. In addition to the grunting exasperation in his voice, Hines’ facial expressions and body language are top-notch. The whole package, thereafter, comes together, ungluing the audience with laughter, when Hines’ Massi tears into the debt ridden Tommy DeVito for always hogging all of the hotel bathroom towels whenever they’ve been on the road.
The last of the Four Seasons members to be depicted is Matthew Dailey as the gifted, albeit troubled, controlling, and obstinate Tommy DeVito. Dailey effectively conveys DeVito’s tough guy demeanor with an engaging panache that rivetingly plays to the audience (i.e., Dailey’s oblivious reaction as DeVito to the business sign that inspires the group’s name change to The Four Seasons is stellar). And, as the first of the group to narrate the proceedings, Dailey has the unenviable task of, in many ways, leading the musical out of the starting blocks as far as audience involvement is concerned. He not only succeeds in doing this, but the rest of the show is stronger because of how well he lays the groundwork of the plot.
Of course, it also goes without saying that in a show that has very quick transitions from scene to dance number, and back again, the supporting cast has a pivotal impact on how the sum of everything is perceived. The ensemble includes Barry Anderson, who does Bob Crewe’s spiritedness much justice; Thomas Fiscella, who brings significant substance to Gyp DeCarlo and the priest; David LaMarr as the idiosyncratic Barry Belson, Dru Serkes as Norm Waxman, Jonny Wexler as Joe Pesci, Kristen Paulicelli as the left-behind wife Mary Delgado, Leslie Rochette as the heartbreaking Francine, Jesse Wildman as Lorraine, on-stage drummer Mark Papazian, the entire horn section during “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and more.
Undeniably, the national touring production of “Jersey Boys” enlivens us by transporting us back to the mid-century ascendancy, and then redemption of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, whose music will always live on in our hearts and for time immemorial. The members certainly had their share of faults off the stage — some more than others — but together they personified the post-WWII era of peace, lightheartedness, and harmony (including the musical kind).
For more information about seeing “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre, please visit