By CB Adams
In the beginning was New Jersey, which begat Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, which in various incarnations begat pop record sales of more than 175 million, which begat the jukebox musical Jersey Boys, which begat four Tony Awards that included Best Musical and a trunk-load of other accolades, which begat a film directed and produced by none other than “Dirty” Harry Callahan (okay, Clint Eastwood), which begat a return engagement of the ensemble musical at The Fabulous Fox Theatre on January 30-Febrary 2.
According to the press kit for Jersey Boys, this musical is not recommended for children under 12 due in part because it is peppered with “authentic Jersey language,” But, bada bing bada boom, other than the youngsters, Jersey Boys could just as well be known as the Authentic Jersey Musical, not to mention an authentically satisfying experience. And the show has been to St. Louis so many times that may have earned the nickname “St. Louis Boys.”
Nothing succeeds like success, and such is the case with Jersey Boys, which wouldn’t keep pounding the boards at venues like the Fox and The Muny if it weren’t so darned enjoyable. Jersey Boys is a show that entices men to come for the swagger and women to stay for the swoon – a winning combination not shared by many of musicals. Directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff and written by Academy Award-winner Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, it reliably fills seats.
The behind-the-scenes, bio-pic show, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, hits the high and low notes of the evolution and more-or-less dissolution of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the years before, during and after the so-called British Invasion. This was an impressively long run of success for core bandmates – Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi — that earned them a well-deserved place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The musical version of their story is a straight shot through the band’s history, with each member given a portion of the story to tell. Unlike some jukebox musicals that rely on a contrived plot to underpin the hit songs, Jersey Boys leverages the compelling story of the band’s history. The story has become as ubiquitous as the sing of hits the band produced. Jersey Boys is an ensemble effort with Jon Hacker as Valli, Eric Chambliss as Gaudio, Corey Geenan as DeVito and Michael Milton at Massi. These actors individually and collectively delivered at solid performance in acting and singing. Although there were no stand-out performances, Chambliss and Hacker delivered with the most heart and pathos – thanks in no small part to the show’s script.
But let’s face it: You come for the music and you stay for the music. Jersey Boys delivers with plenty of music – 33 songs, including five number-ones. And even though it doesn’t include 19 of the band’s other hits, including four other top-10 hits, the show drops the needle on a well-paced, nostalgically steady steam of the music that is the heart and soul of this show.
The strength of the show really rested on the vocal shoulders of Hacker as Franki. Hacker’s performance was, like all other aspects of the production, solid. Hacker is no Valli hologram and his evocation of the style, personality and vocal style of Valli did justice to the spirit and talents of the man himself. Hacker’s voice and acting were up to the material, especially with the support of the rest of the cast.
Hacker as Frankie delivered one of the musical’s most poignant lines about the group: “Like that bunny on TV, it just keeps going and going and going. Chasing the music. Trying to find our way home.”
Jersey Boys certainly has a found a regular place to call home on St. Louis stages.
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presented “Jersey Boys” January 30-February 2.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.