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Entertainment & Lifestyle

‘Jersey Boys' a hit at State Theatre

6/26/2008 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is crowd pleaser

From left, Steve Gouveia, Joseph Leo Bwarie, Andrew Rannells and Erik Bates star in “Jersey Boys.”
Photo: Joan Marcus
CLEVELAND — Boys growing up in New Jersey had few options, according to Frankie Valli. They could leave town, join the mob or become stars. Hey, New Jersey natives Frank Sinatra became a star and Joe Pesci won an Academy Award.

And four guys met under a Jersey streetlight and harmonized. A lot of streetlights and a few clubs later, they developed into what is called the “Jersey sound.” That’s the sound that made Valli and The Four Seasons one of the hottest singing groups in music history. They moved from blue-collar, working-class families to the spotlight on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and to selling more than 175 million records (and they’re still selling).

“Jersey Boys” is the story of Valli and The Four Seasons and is on stage at the State Theatre through July 20. The production is autobiographical and is not pseudo-fiction like “Dreamgirls.”

The “Jersey Boys” script, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is a masterpiece. In one or two lines, Brickman and Elice tell major elements of the storyline and move the plot forward. The bare-bones lines of dialogue link the lives of the four men and the big hits of Valli and The Four Seasons. Brickman is known, in part, for sharing an Academy Award with Woody Allen for “Annie Hall.”

The Four Seasons is a group of four men, including Valli, but sometimes Valli performed as a solo act.

Valli is famous for his tenor voice, which he would slip into a falsetto. He had 29 Top 40 hits with The Four Seasons and nine Top 40 hits as a soloist. Other members of the group included Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio.

Pesci introduced Gaudio and DeVito. Those two men helped the singing group develop The Four Seasons’ sound. 

Fame, fortune and bad luck came the way of the four singers and, finally, they went their separate ways. But, they were reunited when the group was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Jersey Boys” features 32 Four Seasons hits. The show includes “Silhouettes,” “Let’s Hang on (to What We’ve Got),” “Can’t Take My Eyes off You,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Rag Doll” and many, many more. The program includes a list of their hits that aren’t included in the show.

The 21 performers are superior. However, the spotlight focuses on Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie), Gaudio (Andrew Rannells), Massi (Steve Gouveia) and DeVito (Erik Bates). The four actors playing the Jersey boys come to the stage with acting, singing and dancing abilities.

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo caught the movements of The Four Seasons and the dance movements of the singers of the pre-Beatle days. Trujillo brings energy and style to the production.

Lighting designer Howell Binkley received the Tony Award for lighting for “Jersey Boys.” He deserved the award. The lighting helps the performers tell the story. The stage goes from a small spotlight on one performer to blaring, glaring lights that blind the audience and silhouette the singers.

The Playhouse Square program has individual photographs of the four performers who play The Four Seasons. Below that series of photographs is a performance photograph of the original Four Seasons. Although actors create the men known as The Four Seasons, it’s good to see photographs of the real men who formed this group.

When I saw the show June 20, the audience was excited. The State Theatre seats about 2,500, including the balcony. Only about 100 seats were not sold. The applause after each number was so loud that occasionally a performer would raise his hand to quiet the audience so that the show could go forward.

The standing ovation started the moment the curtain call began. The roof of the theater could have lifted off when Bwarie took his bow. This show is a crowd favorite.

“Jersey Boys” received four well-deserved Tony Awards in 2006, including the “Best Musical” award. The show also received the Grammy Award for “Best Show Album.”

In summary, “Jersey Boys” is a well-told story of the rise, the fall and the rebuilding of one of America’s favorite singing groups. The story weaves together many of the hit songs of “The Four Seasons” and Valli.

For tickets, call (216) 241-6000.

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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