Jersey Boys, at the Providence Performing Arts Center.
Gratuitous Violins rating: *** out of ****
I have now seen - on Broadway or on tour - all 16 Tony nominees for Best Musical from 2006 to 2009. The holdout was Jersey Boys and over the weekend I finally took in the 2006 winner.
My verdict: Jersey Boys is a pretty entertaining 2 1/2 hours. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice do a good job telling the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. And the musical numbers, with Sergio Trujillo's choreography, are terrific. I wish they'd gone on longer.
I enjoyed learning how four blue-collar kids from New Jersey - Valli, Nick Massi, Tommy DeVito and Bob Gaudio - came together to form a band. It was a time, as one of them explains, when young men from the neighborhood had three choices: join the Army, get mobbed up or become a star.
Brickman (an Oscar winner for co-writing one of my favorite movies, Annie Hall) and Elice make each one memorable - Valli the quiet kid with the sweet falsetto, Massi the group's self-described "Ringo Starr," Gaudio the songwriter who's afraid he won't be able to repeat his early success, and DeVito the one who can't seem to stay out of trouble.
The storytelling in Jersey Boys isn't perfect. For one thing, did people really use the f-word that much in 1960? And after a snappy first act, leading up to The Four Seasons' first hit, "Sherry," I thought the second act dragged a bit. (Also, some of the songs seemed to get cut short.)
But I got a good sense of what kept the four together and the pressures that threatened to split them up. I liked the performances: Ryan Jesse as Gaudio, Matt Bailey as DeVito, Steve Gouveia as Massi and especially the dynamic Joseph Leo Bwarie as Frankie Valli. When they were singing, it was like being at a concert back in the day.
What surprised me about Jersey Boys was how many songs I knew that I didn't even know were Four Seasons songs: "Sherry," "Walk Like A Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," "Working My Way Back To You," "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)."
Those songs - many of them written by Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe - are reminders of a time when catchy, 3-minute pop tunes ruled the airwaves. For me, and I think for a lot of other people in the audience, swaying to that music was when Jersey Boys truly came alive.