The Tony Award- winning musical Jersey Boys is back for its second visit to Philly and has settled in a for a LONG run (through January 14) at the Forrest Theatre. This is the first stop on the new National Tour of the show. Not only can I see this show touring for years to come, but a multi-year stint in Las Vegas started last year as well. As they say in the business, this show has” legs”. I saw it last year and just had to see it again. It’s a “must see” for anyone who grew up in the 1960s (reflected by the demographics of the audience last night.)
Based on the production which I experienced (a show like this is more an “experience” than just watching) the show deserves all the accolades it has received. Unlike the “jukebox” musicals like Good Vibrations (Beach Boys) or Movin’ Out (Billy Joel), this show has a plot and its based on real facts. When the Four Seasons – whose career is told over the 2 1/2 hours- were hitting the big time, I was a go-fer with a local Trenton radio station and was immersed in the music of the period. We played the Four Seasons hits along with all those by Philly-based groups. The Seasons were from Jersey; the Dovells were from Philly. Going into the theater to see Jersey Boys, I thought I knew everything about the guys and how they succeeded in the pop music business. Boy, was I wrong! The script, based on interviews with the members, but heavily based on Bob Gaudio’s memories, really fleshes out the story of the problems that often flow beneath successful careers. The story comes first in this show, but not to the exclusion of the music. All the songs, and most are presented nearly full-length, are all the oldies. And, except for a French version of “Oh, What A Night” that starts off the show, the first eight songs are non-Seasons songs (“Earth Angel”, “Silhouettes”). Later on, there is a spot-on cover of the The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back”. And, as you look around the audience, with their baby-boomer demographics, you can see their lips move to silently (and sometimes not so silently) recreate those special moments in their lives. Sixties pop does that to you and the Fours Seasons created the soundtrack to our lives for many of my generation.
The cast on this tour is as good as last year. Can there be others out there – remember there are, not only three or more companies running concurrently, but a different actor plays Valli for Matinees!- who can channel lead singer Frankie Valli as good as Brad Weinstock? Or even look like the original group. (The Program has comparative photos of the original group and the cast for this touring company so you can see for yourself.) Philly-native Brandon Andrus plays an original founder of the group (Nick Massi). The supporting cast plays multiple roles and every one is great.
Though it may not seem important to some, I do want you to be aware that there is some violence in the first act and there is a fairly regular use of the “F” word. The latter makes a lot of sense since Joe Pesci (yes, THAT Joe Pesci!) was a pivotal character in the Season’s story. I doubt that many will bring their young children, but felt it necessary to point out that this is not High School Musical.
This is another case where, despite the fact that tickets for touring hits have risen substantially, there’s no reason to trek into New York to see Jersey Boys. It’s right here on Walnut Street.