Arts

Review: La Mirada Theatre’s ‘Jersey Boys’ Is a Show-Stopping Ode to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

(L-R) Blake Burgess, Chris Fore, Carl Thomson, Noah Rivera, and Taubert Nadalini in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of "Jersey Boys" at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

A non-touring Jersey Boys production partially built from the ground up is finally crooning Southern California at one of its most acclaimed regional theatres: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. “Oh, What a Night,” indeed, for the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment jukebox iteration which spectacularly pays homage to one of the world’s most beloved bands with brand-new staging, direction, and a cast that captures the vocal demands and panache of a legacy that earned Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons the inalienable distinction as Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

(L-R) Noah Rivera and Marlana Dunn in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

What largely makes Jersey Boys a success with theatregoers is that it’s mostly a linear story, interwoven with catchy songs that mark escalating milestones in the harmonizing quartet’s history, over nearly fifty years. For the same reason, however, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s well-researched book can sometimes be over-ambitious, getting bogged down on details that are simultaneously important but also quickly forgotten from one segue to the next.

Nevertheless, director T.J. Dawson skillfully works around the ponderous script — which includes narration from each of the four original members who tell their side of the story — by ensuring that the coming-of-age Italian American narrative drives the music as a supporting fifth member, not vice versa. Moreover, Dana Solimando’s choreography enhances the singable tunes, encouraging audience participation at certain points.

(L-R) Chris Fore, Noah Rivera, Taubert Nadalini, and Blake Burgess in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

The audience discovers Francesco Castelluccio (the birth name of Frankie Valli) just as guitarist Tommy DeVito, the initial group leader, and bassist Nick Massi do. Valli, though, is wet behind the ears compared to DeVito and Massi who have had their share of run-ins with the law. But as unique as Valli’s voice is proven to be, it is the fourth addition, keyboardist Bob Gaudio, whose song-writing prowess propels a band once known as the Varietones, then Four Lovers, and finally the Four Seasons (a name change inspired by a bowling alley marquee) to go from being “under a streetlamp singing other people’s hits” to achieving superstardom. Subsequent trials and tribulations, of a professional and personal consequence, underlie an evolution of the foursome who are still steadfastly represented by Valli at almost 90 years of age.

(L-R) Mel Mehrabian, Dayna Sauble, and Marlana Dunn in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

Noah Rivera becomes Valli, an onerous part that requires not only an expectedly expansive vocal range, but a necessity to cogently emote during scenes highlighting relationships with wife Mary Delgado (charismatically rendered by Marlana Dunn who garners laughs with her character’s rationale for the spelling of “Valli” versus “Vally”), reporter/girlfriend Lorraine (depicted confidently by Mel Mehrabian), and daughter Francine (the versatile Maggie Ek) whose heart-wrenching account marks the emotional peak of the show with “Fallen Angel.”

Rivera, who has sung with the legendary Four Seasons’ frontman himself, impresses with his mixed and head voice, effortlessly hitting the celestial pitches that separated Valli’s sound from his contemporaries. Although there are some imperfections with a few notes running out of air, they humanize Rivera’s performance, reminding of how demanding his post is. In any case, Rivera jaw-droppingly gets better as the musical progresses, dazzling with “Beggin’” (inclusive of surprise leg splits), “Workin’ My Way Back to You,” and the renaissance smash, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” — a triumph for musical director Allen Everman and his onstage orchestra who rollickingly blow their horns in tandem with the adrenaline rush of the “I love you baby…” chorus.

(Bottom, L-R) Johnny DiGiorgio, Noah Rivera, and Quintan Craig, with company, in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

Chris Fore authentically portrays the streetwise Tommy who “molds” Valli and coordinates the band’s seminal deals, despite irresponsibly falling into a $1 million hole, which the group honorably absorbs. Fore’s characterizations emphasize the credit DeVito should be given, but also justify why the band eventually outgrows his unpolished approach. That said, it is Tommy’s no-nonsense attitude that can be argued helped cobble the credibility for the Jersey musicians who then graduated to the top of Billboard charts.

The most underrated showing belongs to Blake Burgess whose Massi is genuine but also not without his troubles. Burgess steadies his predilection for humor (as evidenced by his Massi’s half-facetious, half-earnest threat to start his own band) with pent-up indignation, no more entertaining than the “10 years” harangue directed at Fore’s Tommy, an ostensibly nightmarish hotel roommate.

(L-R) Dominic Pace, Blake Burgess, Noah Rivera, Chris Fore, Taubert Nadalini, and Johnny DiGiorgio in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

Making a compelling argument for best overall turn is Taubert Nadalini whose Gaudio is as much the X factor in this production as the real-life individual was for Valli and his cohorts. Certainly, if it wasn’t for Gaudio, who already had a No. 2 hit with “Short Shorts” at only 15, there would be no “Sherry,” Big Girls Don’t Cry,” or “Walk Like a Man” — three successive No. 1 earworms that legitimized the Four Seasons. Nadalini captures the early innocence, but also precociousness and burgeoning wisdom, of the well-spoken Gaudio who is as amiable as he is indisputably talented.

(L-R) Noah Rivera and Mel Mehrabian in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

Other notable members of the company, most of whom inhabit a Swiss-army-knife portfolio of parts, are Dominic Pace who is both formidable and hysterical as the senior-standing Gyp DeCarlo, the fixer of sticky situations; Adam Lendermon who is flamboyantly charming as key record producer Bob Crewe; Gian Raffaele DiCostanzo whose Joe Pesci (yes, that one) epitomizes the Casino actor’s excitable spirit; Johnny DiGiorgio whose tough-guy timbre and mien as mob representative Norm Waxman gives the second-act conflict more substance; Dayna Sauble who, as the lead singer of the Angels, awes the crowd with her masterclass vocals in “My Boyfriend’s Back;” and Michael Ray Fisher who, as a by-the-book Ohio cop, radio disc jockey, and enthusiastic background vocalist, makes a consistently measurable impact.

(L-R) Noah Rivera and Maggie Ek in the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

While the interpretations of the art-imitates-life roles could be anticipated with fair accuracy, it is the distinctive presentation that more so sets this Jersey Boys apart. At the forefront is Stephen Gifford’s brilliant set of steel staircases leading up to a brick-walled exterior of apartment units in the Jersey “projects,” which alternatively become a correctional facility, church, various clubs, and a bowling alley. Further to that, Adam Ramirez’s costumes particularly stand out with his design of the boys’ sartorial suits, Kaitlin Yagen’s hair and wigs reflect the changing norms through the decades, Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting augments the grandness of a musical that doubles as a concert, and Josh Bessom’s sound expertise reinforces the clarity of the cast and Everman’s musicians.

The company of the 3-D Theatricals and McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of Jersey Boys at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA. Photo credit: Jason Niedle

With La Mirada Theatre continuously becoming a force to be reckoned with, there is no better way to commemorate the venue’s rich history than with the timeless melodies and harmonies that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons made famous in the span of selling over 100 million records. And this isn’t just any offering of Jersey Boys, at least not the kind that originated out of New York and has toured North America; this is its own entity spawned from a special partnership that has brought something novel to the nostalgic and persistently hummable anthology of a living, breathing music chronicle as well as the people who contributed to it.

For further details and tickets to La Mirada Theatre’s production of Jersey Boys — which runs through Sunday, May 12th — visit lamiradatheatre.com.

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