Jersey Boys, Citi Performing Arts Center Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boston, through March 3. 866-348-9738 or www.BroadwayinBoston.com
Where would Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons have been without Bob Crewe? Would they have been a world famous pop sensation or remained a promising group of New Jersey street guys?
Thanks to the pulsating hit musical “Jersey Boys,” the answer to these questions proves itself as resounding as the quartet’s high rhythm hits. While Valli’s strong high tenor and amazing falsetto made such signature songs as “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” breakout hits, gay lyricist-producer Crewe (born Stanley Robert Crewe)‘s managing gifts and guidance brought them national attention. Now in its latest Hub tour at the Citi Performing Arts Emerson Colonial Theatre, the 2006 Tony Award winner again proves itself a blisteringly honest chronicle of four straight singers’ stormy friendships and meteoric fame with a striking subtext of acceptance for then closeted Crewe.
Subtitled “The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons,” “Jersey Boys” moves right to the group’s challenging origins after a snappy 2000 Paris-set rendition of “Ces Soirees-La: (the French version of “Oh What a Night”)demonstrating their continuing influence. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s gritty book-with frank attention to Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi’s early petty crimes and prison stints and Frankie’s close calls under Tommy’s influence- as always sets this musical apart from other group-based shows. Equally vivid are Frankie’s ongoing conflict with his wife Mary and his anguish over the drug overdose death of daughter Francine. Howell Binkley’s silhouette-rich and nuanced lighting remains crisp, and Jess Goldstein’s costumes continue to capture the group’s evolving fashions as they rise to a signature look along with success. Director Des McAnuff maintains the show’s smart alternation of pacing as the Jersey Boys rise, reach the peak of their fame and eventually go their own ways- particularly Valli and Gaudio, who continued to collaborate for many years.
All of these considerable virtues aside, the musical’s strongest assets remain the robust delivery of the group’s catchy hits and Frankie’s solos and the high-stepping movement of the group-most notably respectively on “Walk Like a Man” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” While Nick Cosgrove’s vulnerable and intense Frankie and Michael Lomenda’s sympathetically unassuming Nick are the standouts, all four principals-with Miles Jacoby as composer Bob Gaudio and John Gardner as Tommy-perform the generous repertoire with gusto and execute the group’s dance moves in sync with the precision of Sergio Trujillo’s choreography. Cosgrove may not sound as close to Valli’s voice as previous tour Frankies, but his tenor and falsetto are rich- especially on “Beggin’” and ‘My Eyes Adored You”- and his anguish over his daughter’s death is palpable.
Lomenda’s best moments are Nick’s frustration at feeling like an unheralded fourth man —a la Ringo in the Beatles—and his tirade against Tommy’s thoughtless use of all the towels when they share hotel accommodations. Jacoby catches Gaudio’s authority as composer and teenage prodigy and his friendly collaborating with Frankie.
Gardner has all of Tommy’s bravado as the self-centered early leader of the group.
The third standout in the cast is Jonathan Hadley, returning in the role of Bob Crewe. Playing Crewe on Broadway before several years now on tour, Hadley has called his character the ‘Fifth Season.’ That description is apt for two reasons. First, Crewe—at the start of the finale-—tells the audience that the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. This observation gives Crewe some status after the musical’s ‘four seasons’—namely contrasting reflections in turn by each of the principals during the musical’s four seasons . As it happens, lyricist Crewe was himself inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 (and should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame himself).
Second, Crewe’s lyrics and producing genius were as indispensable as the quartet to their success. Most notably, Crewe was inspired by his gay lover at the time to write the words for “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” If the show is somewhat subtle about then closeted Crewe’s sexual orientation- describing him as ‘flamboyant’ and comparing him to theatrical Liberace, the between-the-lines message (and the truth) is that the straight Italian quartet accepted their fellow New Jersey collaborator wholeheartedly as at least a bisexual producer, manager and lyricist (who was dating women as well as men at the time). Crewe is seen repeatedly working in studio with composer Gaudio and mentoring Frankie and the Four Seasons. Hadley evokes all of Crewe’s engaging personality as well as his blunt counsel in turning the promising quartet into a real pop music sensation. Crewe, now 81 and painting in Los Angeles, is said to like the show a lot, and Brickman and Elice’s portrait of him as a pivotal contributor to Frankie Valli and the Four Season’s repertoire is surely one very good reason why.
The Four Seasons ensemble and the full company sing and dance “Who Loves You” at the end of the second act. Veteran and new fans alike will be responding with their own hands and feet to the adorable revival at the Colonial- to the group’s unique style, Gaudio’s spirited compositions and Crewe’s gender-equal lyrics.