Sunday, June 13

Broadway Across America: Jersey Boys

If you are fortunate enough to review theater long enough you will come across performances which sail above the majority. I have been that fortunate, on a few occasions, to witness the short list of shows setting a standard to which others strive to match.
Broadway Across America's Jersey Boys is one of those shining stars. Four boys from the wrong side of Newark (is there a right side?) Walk Like a Man onstage at The Murat Theatre, 502 N. New Jersey St., through July 3. The Tony and Grammy award-winning show hits every note and every emotion at full throttle and with an Italian sledge-hammer intensity.
In the gritty New Jersey jungle where you, "Join the Army, get mobbed up or become a star," four street thugs scratch, bribe and threaten their way up the ladder of pop idol stardom. Golden egg and falsetto-voiced teenager Francis Castelluccio-Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie) becomes lead singer for the ever-turbulent band which eventually settles on the name The Four Seasons. Other members of the group include bad boy Tommy DeVito (Matt Bailey), neurotic, brooding Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) and songwriting child prodigy Bob Gaudio.
With a street-tough stage and an in-your-face approach, the audience is delivered a documentary musical ripe with behind-the-scenes juicy details including, prostitutes, failed marriages, fights, jail time, blood, booze, certain Italian affiliations and loan sharks...kind of like a mob movie, complete with Joe Pesci, set to amazing music.
Shed your rose-coloured, dreamy pop icon glasses at the door, folks, 'cuz this ain't no group of Catholic choir boys. These almost-wise guys have each others' backs, secrets and loyalty. Their rise to fame was no walk in the park.
Each of the four members takes a metaphoric season giving a blow-by-blow account interjected with several of the 29 No. 1 hits. Belting out the songs (Sherry, My Eyes Adored You, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like a Man) in rapid-fire, concert-style succession, gives definition to the lyrics' origins, including Oh What a Night, about Gaudio's loss of virginity.
Swearing like, well, guys from Jersey, the finger-snapping, dapper-dressed, well-choreographed group lays it all out there...judge them and take a chance on their wrath, because they are not ashamed. Like them or not, they are who they are...American born and American proud. Rising to fame and fortune was not easy and they earned every penny.
Selling 175 million albums, the Hall of Fame inductees parted ways when financial disaster, through De Vito's gambling mishaps, was brought to light...by the loan sharks. After pledging to the mob that he would pay back every penny owed by his Jersey buddy, Valli, along with Gaudio, continued on with touring. Massi departed from the group at that time, citing a need to be home with his family.
The show's final 'season' was narrated by Valli's account of going solo. Always the idealists, Gaudio and Valli continue their handshake partnership, dividing all monies gained through solo ventures, remaining best friends to this day.
Whether over, or under, the appropriate age to remember this group's rise to fame, chances are you know the music, lyrics and songs. Although not as great as the real thing, this version of Valli and the Four Seasons is as close as you could hope to find.
As a writer, you may find it strange when I say there are not enough words in Mr. Webster's dictionary to explain the phenomenon going on at The Murat Theatre, so I will put it succinctly.

Bottom Line: DO. NOT. MISS. Jersey Boys...for any reason. Lie, cheat, steal...whatever it takes...Jersey Boys is the one you do not want to miss for the 2009-10 season.
For tickets and information, visit http://www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/shows/jerseyBoys.html

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated columnist, theater critic, and travel writer. You can now follow her on facebook and catch her as Indy's Arts & Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC's Saturday Morning News Show, giving a quick Gotta Go list of things to do in the Indy area, including restaurants, festivals, events, theater, and films.
**This column appears in its entirety, or in an edited version, in the following newspapers:
South Sider Voice, West Side Community News, West Indianapolis Community News, Pendleton Times-Reporter, Fortville-McCordsville Reporter, New Palenstine Reporter

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