By Jacob Coakley
Before I saw Jersey Boys, I didn’t understand the adulation it received when it debuted in New York, and I wasn’t sure it could create the same excitement here. Well, that was then. This show’s got excitement all right, and it absolutely deserves it.
The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys is a combination of Rashomon and VH1’s Behind the Music, peppered with early rock ’n’ roll songs that you may not know the names of but will definitely recognize. Each of the four principals—founder Tommy DeVito (Jeremy Kushner), bassist Nick Massi (Jeff Leibow), songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and singer Frankie Valli (Rick Faugno)—takes a turn telling his side of the group’s story, a story that, according to book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, contains “love and hate, the mob and music and money, revenge and betrayal, wives, other people’s wives, children, family.” It’s also got great music in dynamite arrangements, stellar vocals, whip-fast direction and some of the funniest writing about guys this side of Judd Apatow.
As befitting a jukebox musical, the show is stocked with Four Seasons hits, including their first trifecta of No. 1s, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” But here’s the thing—these versions sound better than anything you ever heard on AM radio. For the first time I could actually hear the rock in The Four Seasons. The songs have a sonic punch and vibrancy but still let the vocal arrangements and their difficult harmonies reach right through with clarity and energy. Make no mistake, this is a demanding show for the vocalists, and they all do great work. People were practically leaping out of their seats after each number.
The performance also moves. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is simple, but sharp. The Four Seasons show off their moves in a way befitting white guys in the ’60s—you won’t see any big chorus numbers, but you will see some dynamic movement from the days when performers had to stand behind a mic to be heard. Director Des McAnuff likes to think of the show as a small musical, and he keeps the action down-center, setting the location with one or two carefully chosen scenic elements. He’s preserved the original Broadway staging, including a drum lift that the touring shows don’t get, kept all the songs and even kept the intermission.
At just eight minutes, the “Short Break” was reportedly a compromise between the artistic staff, who felt that intermission was essential to give the audience a sense of time passing and tone shifting in the show, and the casino officials, who, in no surprise to anyone, wanted to keep the show as short as possible to get people back to the gambling tables. If you don’t step out during the break, sit back and watch the new intermission video. A Vegas exclusive, it’s a montage of road-trip touring images culled from period footage and is meant to evoke the feeling of The Four Seasons touring and traveling to Vegas.
The hidden pleasure of the show is that it’s funny. Brickman and Elice have loaded the spoken parts of the show with astute, character-revealing jokes. The show’s format helps, as the characters’ direct address allows for some wisecracks, but most of the humor comes from the interplay of the leads and never crosses into outlandish—even the swishy, astrology-reading record producer is played, well, straight.
In fact, Jersey Boys may be the perfect musical for straight guys. While I’d hate to say it’s about “relationships,” its big emotional moments are ones that happen between men and the people in their lives: small slights and large betrayals between friends, divorce and dealing with the recrimination of not being the best father. This is territory that resonates with men. The heavy emotional lifting is handled with the music; the songs speak to the subtext the guys can’t, or won’t, address.
More than just an entertaining musical bio, Jersey Boys is a bracing, funny look at how men navigate through their lives, coupled with incendiary musical performances and a voyeuristic look at fame. Yeah, maybe it came from Broadway, but now it deserves a home here.
Thursday, Friday, Sunday, Monday, 7 p.m.; Tuesday and Saturday, 7 and 10 p.m.,$62.70-$199.73.
The Palazzo Resort