Audiences cannot get enough of Jersey Boys
By Lisa Gray Youngblood
There is a reason Jersey Boys returned to the plateau.
Performing for sold-out audiences, the cast of Mountain Theatre Company’s Jersey Boys does not disappoint. For the handful who don’t know what this play is about, imagine all the great tunes of The Four Seasons, including "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," “Oh, What a Night" and "My Eyes Adored You." Then imagine the four young men who were the band, each with his own story and each tied to one another and the close-knit, if rough, Jersey streets. Bands that rocket to stardom (and find their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) have a story, and it is usually a colorful one. For The Four Seasons, I suggest you buckle-up.
But let’s start with what you already know: the music. Emanuel Carrero (Frankie Valli) has a voice that will make you lean forward in wonder. Like Frankie Valli’s, it has a range and pitch that seems impossible and creates that special spark that made the band so unique. John Mezzina Hannigan (Bob Gaudio) has the velvet voice that smooths and binds the group. Gianni Palmarini (Tommy DeVito) brings the energy and vibrance—and a significant edge. Finally, Sam Alan Johnson (Nick Massi) has the low, rich baritone that rides the wave of Carrero’s high notes and makes the music undulate. In short, welcome to a live show of The Four Seasons. You will be delighted by the authenticity.
In a nod to the popularity of the music, the audience is encouraged to sing along, which seems rather beside the point because, permission or not, it’s impossible not to. By the final act, the audience will inevitably be on their feet, dancing and singing, all with nostalgic, satisfied smiles and clapping hands.
Now, for the story you may not know—the men themselves. These guys come from the Jersey streets, and those streets aren’t easy. Tommy and Nick are no strangers to lock-up. Frankie, the man with the unusual and stunning voice, must rely on Tommy and Nick to navigate the world of music, a world Frankie is not equipped to navigate alone. Finally, Bob, the innocent but strangely business savvy boy with a great voice and even better lyrics, must trust these men and the process. The men grow together. They build each other up and let each other down. They fail spectacularly (and repeatedly); they rise to fame. There are battle wounds and astoundingly sweet moments of connection and humanity. Their music and their personal stories are often worlds apart, but they persist until, of course, they don’t.
The performances felt organic and real. Hats off to Carrero (Valli) for the depth of emotion he shows, bringing us deeply into Valli’s moments of anguish. (There were audible gasps when he receives the horrific phone call that changes his life.) Likewise, Hannigan (Bob) portrays the angst of pursuing a dream, the innocence of childhood and the courage to be who you are as opposed to who the world wants you to be. Johnson (Nick) gives a performance we can all relate to, the all too human need to protect ourselves and accept the consequences of our decisions. And Palmarini gives us all of Tommy—the bravado and energy and charisma that gets things done and, unfortunately, destroys.
But it wasn’t only the four primary actors who shined. The cast as a whole, many of whom played multiple roles, all held their weight. Ryan Widd (Gyp DeCarlo), Taylor Ruffo (Mary), Brandon Leporati (Bob Crewe), and Jacob Atkins (Joey Pesci) all gave standout performances, commanding the stage and sharing their own stories.
Finally, if you haven’t been to the new Highlands Performing Arts Center, where Mountain Theatre Company now calls its new home, you are in for a treat. The acoustics and lighting are first class, and there is not a bad seat in the house. The direction and staging for this production are seamless and inventive, and costumes transport you back to the days The Four Seasons ruled the airways.
Although known for the music, which is stand-up-and-dance fabulous, Jersey Boys offers so much more. A beautiful story lay beneath the songs we all know and love, a story of friendship, betrayal, loss, and ultimately, reflection. In the final act of the play, Frankie Valli reflects on what mattered most in his life. He concludes it wasn’t the grand moments. It wasn’t being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was when he and the fellas found their voice on a random night in an empty club, a moment when their whole lives lay before them. Isn’t that true for most of us? In the end, isn’t it the small, quiet moments that make us who we are?
Bravo. Job well done!
Mountain Theatre Company
Performances at the Highlands PAC
For tickets, go to mountaintheatre.com