KPBS AIRDATE: October 22, 2004
Okay, so these four Italian guys from New Jersey walk into a musical. They sing their hearts out and knock your socks off. Make no mistake; “Jersey Boys” is a sure-fire smash. And the La Jolla Playhouse should soon be giving our regards to Broadway.
The show is what some call a ‘jukebox musical,’ meaning that it uses an already-proven song catalogue — in this case, the unforgettable tunes of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But unlike some other, tacked-on tales, this is the true story of a group of friends adhering to the Jersey code of loyalty. We follow them from their coming together to their coming apart. It’s a real, rock ‘n’ roll, rags-to-riches saga, replete with divorce, death, payola, prison time — and, along the way, 150 million record sales. It was a trip to have two of the four original Seasons in the audience on opening night — though composer Bob Gaudio admitted that, for him and for Frankie Valli, it was really hard to sit there and watch their very imperfect lives up on a stage.
But what was up on that stage — wow! Fabulous performances, and a spectacularly talented cast of singer/dancer/actor/musicians. Just about everyone up there plays some instrument. The joint is jumpin’ — onstage and off. This is one of those rare occasions when a standing ovation is joyfully spontaneous and thoroughly warranted. And there are several show-stoppers on the way to the finish line.
No matter what age you are, you can’t have been alive during the last half of the 20th century and not know these songs — “Sherry,” “Dawn,” “Rag Doll,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” And you can’t be unfamiliar with the distinctive voice and incredible range of Frankie Valli. Similarly diminutive, and irresistibly adorable, David Noroña has the requisite charisma and vocal quality, and along with the rest of the talented cast, he makes you laugh, steals your heart, and for many of us, brings back memories of high school or back seats, make-out parties or street-corner singing-sessions. The book, by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman (who’s written for Woody Allen), perfectly captures the time, the locale, the humor and the heart of the story. The design work is superb, punctuating the proceedings with pop art projections that mark the seasons and evoke those tear-strewn, sentimental romance comic books of yore. The costumes and the raw, raunchy language are spot-on. No time-sensitive detail goes unnoticed. But the real success is how wonderfully the music is recreated and how it rocks you right outta your seat. So, don’t Walk Like a Man; run like the wind — to “Jersey Boys.”
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.