Oh, what a night.
Tuesday’s opening of “Jersey Boys” was a very special time for the clapping, toe-tapping, chair-dancing audience that nearly filled the 2,500-seat Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus.
The touring company’s performance of the Tony-winning musical biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is a polished, precise, energetic romp through the group’s music and backstory, the caliber you expect from presenter Broadway in Tucson.
Vignettes of group’s formative years in the 1950s through its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 are wrapped in and eclipsed by the bright, pop songs featuring Valli’s famed falsetto.
Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice don’t use the music to tell the story — this is not “Mamma Mia!” The group’s chronology is divided into four parts (labeled “seasons,” of course). Each of the members narrates, sharing a season from his point of view. Petty crimes, jail time, mob connections, failed relationships, poor parenting, deep debt, the importance of a handshake and taking care of those who took care of you are shared, but without depth or complexity.
A strong, exuberant cast in standout true-to-the-period costumes seemed to hit their marks in the well-choreographed production and gave meaning to the humor-punctuated snippets and to the music.
First narrator Nicolas Dromard as Tommy DeVito, the founder who first put Frankie on stage and pulled the group together, is convincing with his New Jersey tough-guy strut, accent and attitude. Adam Zelasko, who was appropriately droll as fourth-man Nick Massi, delivered some of the play’s driest and funniest lines.
Quinn VanAntwerp brought assurance and some innocence to the role of T.S. Eliott-quoting Bob Gaudio, the savvy, songwriting superstar whose work put the Four Seasons at the top of the charts.
And all eyes seemed to adore Hayden Milanes as Francis Castelluccio, who became Frankie Valli. During the first few scenes in Act One, Milanes sounded too nasal. (We’re blaming June’s dry heat.) By the time he belted out “Sherry” that overly nasal quality was gone and he nailed his songs and his powerful falsetto soared in Valli-esque style.
Marlana Dunn as Mary Delgado, Valli's first wife, was shrewd with just the right amount of shrill. It was easy to feel swept back a few decades and across the continent when she explains that the name “Valli” should not end with a “y” because a “y” doesn’t know if it’s a consonant or a vowel. (She has a point.) Barry Anderson’s over-the-top portrayal of music producer and lyricist Bob Crewe added to the evening’s humor.
The set of framed scaffolding, reminiscent of industrial, blue collar New Jersey had staircases — one straight, one spiral — enabled the performers to move smoothly and keep the action continuous, especially in the first few, largely expository scenes in Act One. Simply simply rolling in a chair or a table changes scenes.
In the center back of the stage, projections of Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoons, sunsets, silhouettes, scenes from “The Ed Sullivan Show” helped give “Jersey Boys” a sense of time and place. Our favorite: Onstage cameras that “broadcast” the live performers in black-and-white. It was like watching a bit of “American Bandstand.”
The live band — keyboards, guitar, bass, trumpet, sax, trombone — electrified the audience and added a concertlike quality of the performance. Ben Hartman conducted.
Friday’s opening Clint Eastwood’s movie version of “Jersey Boys” should not deter seeing the live performance. Live theater and movies are different art forms and totally different experiences. No performance is exactly the same.
Though it has sad and tragic elements, “Jersey Boys” probably won’t leave you in tears. It will most likely leave you smiling, elongating a few vowels, and dropping some consonants and singing a Four Seasons’ tune as you dance your way out of the auditorium.
See reviews of the "Jersey Boys" at Centennial Hall and the movie in Thursday's Caliente.
Contact Ann Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org