Thursday, September 21, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 425, A Review: "Jersey Boys" (Music Theatre of Connecticut)

By James V. Ruocco

"Big Girls Don't Cry"

"Walk Like a Man"

"Oh, What a Night"


"Can't Take My Eyes Off You"

"Rag Doll"

"Working My Way Back to You"

A rock-and-roll fable engineered with jukebox musical potency, precision-drilled period choreography and impeccable performances that pull you in and keep you there, Music Theatre of Connecticut's stylish, invigorating revival of "Jersey Boys" rocks the stage with an all-American thrill and polish that is absolutely triumphant.

It sings.
It soars.
It dances.
It spins.
It tilts.
It unfolds with real and raw dynamic.
It remembers yesterday with heyday fondness and spirit.
It fires the imagination with illuminated veneer and imagination.
It is filled with choice moves and flashy momentum.
Its storytelling technique is sweet, sincere, nostalgic and pulse-racing.

A big heart drives every single moment with a commitment like no other carried about with an intrigue and bluster that's romanticized with hyperactive passion, heat and pop music energy and education.

Featuring music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, "Jersey Boys" retells the story of the 1960s rock 'n' roll group The Four Seasons, using a semi-documentary style format, each narrated by a different member of the band, who, for story purposes, offers his own perspective on the ongoing story, its music, its highs and lows, its conflicts, its headlines, its drama, its wobbles, its fantasy and its chartbusting success.
The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice eases comfortably into the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons vintage scrapbook with slick, connected arrangement that gives way to important rags-to-riches info that rolls happily along with slide, purpose and vibe, never once clouded in preachiness, overkill or showbiz cliche or crackle. It's all pretty much straightforward charge-into-fame storytelling lathered in songs, remembrances and info that brings "Jersey Boys" to its emotional peak, climax and gravitational constant.

Staging "Jersey Boys" at Musical Theatre of Connecticut, director Kevin Connors ("Ragtime," "Falsettoland," "Cabaret," "Gypsy," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") is very much in his element shaping, molding and implementing the "Jersey Boys" terrain. Well versed in the mechanics, structure and presentation of musical theatre, he crafts a buoyant, multi-octave entertainment, offset by swagger, skill, trickle, presence and fantastic song involvement.
Directorially, Connors kickstarts the musical with an effective, one-on-one immersion that thrusts his audience into the emotional sweep of the two-act narrative. This directorial kinship prompts an immediacy and energy that teems with life and incident, narrative emphasis and clarity and charmingly done channeling and impact. No lulls. No pauses. No halts. No interruptions. Just gliding theatricality overflowing with details, diagnosis, wonder and maximum musicality.

As with other productions he has staged at MTC including "Cabaret," "Falsettoland" and "Ragtime," "Jersey Boys" benefits from the venue's three-quarter staging set up which in terms of execution, brings the actor into closer proximity with the audience and heightens the production's realness, emotion and story arc evolution. Here, Connors fleshes out the "Jersey Boys" story with a contained trueness and in-your-face determination that heightens the musical's emotional impact, legacy and coup d' theatre specificity, exploration and articulation. This intimacy also allows the audience to completely absorb the collective journey of The Four Seasons matched by a depth of feeling that digs deep into the heart and soul of its characters with an important closeness not found in typical proscenium stagings of "Jersey Boys." Actors entering and exiting the stage from five or six different locations furthers that creative process, thus, complementing the nonstop, adrenaline-pumping thrill and spill of the entire production.

Musically, "Jersey Boys" is absolute, sheer joy infused with good fortune and a musical score that goes the distance in terms of drama, humor, backstage storytelling, nostalgia and catchy, pop-infested song hits from yesteryear.
Songs include "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," "Sherry," "My Boyfriend's Back," "Earth Angels," "Rag Doll," "Oh, What a Night," "Dawn (Go Away)," "I'm In the Mood for Love," "My Eyes Adored You," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," "Stay," "Let's Hang On! (To What We've Got)," "Bye Bye Baby," "Fallen Angels" and "Working My Way Back to You."
Musical director Tony Bellomy brings expansive warmth and expressive depth to the material, basking in the immediate delight of the already proven music itself, its fruitful collaboration between the onstage performers, its rattle and roar and its many lapses into the time frame when whence it came. As "Jersey Boys" evolves, it resonates naturally, its sounds easeful and gracious, it shows off the brilliance and beauty of The Four Seasons themselves and gives the audience proof that then and now, the quartet's deep musical glow was rife with perfect harmony, rhythm and phrasing.
At MCT, Bellomy, doing double duty at the keyboard, brings the two-act musical into the spotlight with the able assist of Michael Blancaflor (percussion), Gary Ruggiero (woodwinds), Christopher McNellis (bass guitar), Max Caserta (guitar) and Stefan Dinkel (trumpet). Creating uniformity across the entire performance, mixed with formidable richness and contrast, the band fuels "Jersey Boys" with insightful translation, crystal clear attention and ideal acoustics that are both vivid and exemplary.

In the lead role of Frankie Valli, Michael Fasano, who has played the part before, gives a megawatt, five-star performance that rocks the MTC stage, pays homage to the Jersey boy himself and tickles the fancy of smiling, drooling, female audience members lucky enough to snag front row seats. Vocally, he projects the Valli sound with confidence, flank and versatility, mastering the singer's recognized balance, pace, rhythm and hypnotic falsetto.
As Tommy DeVito, Nathan Cockroft delivers a sexy, powerhouse performance that reflects the troublesome, out-of-control persona of the real-life Tommy. Throughout "Jersey Boys," he exudes a natural confidence and swagger, offset by a vocal, can-do-it-all song style that intuitively recreates The Four Seasons sound, pitch and breathless harmony.
Sean McGee brings real charm, challenge, gusto and personality to the part of Bob Gaudio. It's a polished, natural and honest turn, mixed with just the right amount of pop, sizzle and sentiment that keeps his character grounded in the ongoing narrative and "Jersey Boys" rages-to-riches drama. Vocally, he's on tap with an emotional release and high energy musicality that is personal, passionate and completely in sync with the blending harmonies of those around him.
Stephen Petrovich brings excited flourish and razor-sharp definition to the role of band member Nick Massi. Vocally and dramatically, he stands tall whenever he's on stage. He also gets one of the best written moments to perform halfway through Act II, which he delivers so magnificently, hearty applause from the audience is completely justified.

Emily Solo, cast in the role of Frankie Valli's first wife Mary Delgado, comes to "Jersey Boys" with a confident and ambitious sense of intrigue, charm and allure that makes her the perfect fit for the part of Delgado and the many other roles she is asked to portray throughout the "Jersey Boys" musical. In the role of Lorraine, a Detroit reporter who begins dating Valli after he splits with his first wife Mary, Brianna Bauch plays this part and others with crystal clear refinement, insight, sexiness and rattle.
As Francine, Frankie Valli's troubled daughter, Skye Gillespie's commitment to this role and others is chronicled with embraced definition and spark. Jeff Raab's high-amped turn as excited teenager Joe Pesci, who, later in life went on to star in numerous motion pictures including "Goodfellas," "Raging Bull," "Casino" and "My Cousin Vinny," possesses a bring-it-on star quality that makes his every on-stage moment knock and rock with individual certainty, excitement and trigger.

As musical theatre, "Jersey Boys" hits all the right notes soundtracked by a parade of hit songs including "Sherry," "Walk Like a Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Oh, What a Night" and "Let's Hang On! (To What We've Got)."
It's fun. It's emotional. It's clever. It's potent. It's jukebox ready.
Director Kevin Connors' take on the actual story of The Four Seasons is top-price creative, backed by a terrific cast of hard-working performers, all of whom bring real emotion and vocal prowess to the "Jersey Boys" story.
Katie Goffman's (also billed as assistant director) utterly natural choreography creates an onstage chemistry that is strong, complex, amazing and academically correct. It is melting and fusing with that "Oh, What a Night" feeling that defines and categorizes this welcomed, dedicated and engaging MTC revival of "Jersey Boys."

Photos of "Jersey Boys" courtesy of Alex Mongillo

"Jersey Boys" is being staged at Music Theatre of Connecticut (509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, CT), now through October 1, 2023.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 454-3883.

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