Oh What a Night! Jersey Boys at Miller Delivers (Review)
Gangs, mob ties, burglary, infidelity, prostitutes, grand larceny, drug overdose, the liberal use of the word “f*ck” - sounds like a Tarantino flick, right? But Tarantino was a wee babe when four guys from Jersey were singing under a street lamp, about to change music forever.
The Four Seasons, the subject of Jersey Boys, running through Sunday at Miller Auditorium, may have been jacket-clad, choreographed, clean-cut gentlemen on the surface, but their beginnings were not only humble, they were criminal. The show starts with one of the founding members, Tommy Devito (Matthew Daily) giving a quick synopsis of how hard getting a band together was in New Jersey, when every member had to go on hiatus here-and-there for a couple of months in correctional facilities… like you do. This criminal history was delivered with a proud smirk, as though doing time was not only common in that neighborhood in those days, it was a rite of passage. In the middle of all of the band member’s comings-and-goings, DeVito meets a young Frankie Castellucio (Aaron De Jesus). Devito realizes that Frankie’s vocal range is exactly what his group needs, so he gathers up lead singer Frankie (who changed his last name to Valli), and the most recent band member to be released from prison, bass player Nick Massi (Keith Hines), to head out to find their fourth member, and more importantly, their sound. Enter Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley), a 15-year-old musical prodigy. These four men stumbled upon a most unique harmony; a harmony that would take them all the way to the top, and eventually to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I don’t have to blow smoke up the skirts of this touring cast of Jersey Boys; two standing ovations in one night (one in the middle of the second Act) should be enough of an indication that “they done good.” The supporting cast shined, but not in a chew-the-scenery way. They effortlessly grabbed their moments in the spotlight, and then faded back to give the four main characters their much deserved due. Very rarely do you come across musical theater actors/actresses who can sing AND act. I know that sounds like an extremely judgmental thing to say, but in all my years (20+) of being on stage, you seldom find that trained musical theater singer who doesn’t emote their way through the dialogue. An entire company of them is like a herd of unicorns. Kudos all around!
On to the leads!
Matthew Dailey (Tommy DeVito): Dailey may have a boy-next-door face, but his build is intimidating, and he uses it to his advantage. The audience floats between trusting him and knowing they shouldn’t trust him, which is just what that character needs to be true to history and effective in storytelling.
Aaron De Jesus (Frankie Valli): De Jesus not only looks like a young Frankie Valli, he sounds like a young Frankie Valli, and not in the mocking/mimicking way I’ve seen the part done before. He hits every note like he invented it. Even Valli’s natural melodic vocal fry that would creep up from time-to-time was present in De Jesus’ voice. His physicality was, as the kids are saying, “on point.”
Keith Hines (Nick Massi): Tall, stoic, hilarious. I scanned through his bio at intermission and mumbled, “…of course he was!” seeing that his previous performances included Buck in Cougar the Musical, Lancelot in Camelot, and Enjolras in Les Miserables. He’s got the Gaston build, and could just coast on that, but his sense of comedic timing confirms he’s not just a great voice or a pretty face.
Drew Seeley (Bob Gaudio): Gaudio is a tough character; how do you believably start off as a fresh-faced, naïve 15-year-old and seamlessly mature during the story’s timeline in front of the audience? Ask Seeley. He’s got it down. Handsome, confident, vulnerable – Seeley owns the stage in a very humble way. A fan favorite (I heard several college-age girls swooning during intermission and after the show), his performance is not to be missed. Also, the fact that he took time out of his day to chat with us on the Rocker Morning Show, doesn’t hurt. (Thanks, Drew).
As far as the show itself is concerned, how can you go wrong? The music is legendary; learning the backstory to familiar and much-loved tunes dusts each track off, one-by-one, giving it an entirely new tone. The voices; iconic; getting an intimate look in to the personalities and relationships defines "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." This show is for theater lovers and first-timers, alike. It's all at once gritty, honest, and familiar. The musicians playing on-stage (as opposed to being relegated to The Pit) was so refreshing and fun, making you feel like you were at a live concert in the 60s. Special note: Hats off to Dru Serkes, that Zachary Quinto-lookin-mutha who knows his way around a kit.
Final Summation: Jersey Boys is a story of loyalty and betrayal, hope and heartache. Fate brought them together, Bob Crewe made them famous, and remembering their roots gave them the strength to endure for decades.
Jersey Boys at Miller Auditorium, playing through Sunday, October 25th.