The Four Seasons is not just a classical composition for violins by Italian composer Vivaldi. The Four Seasons were a famous American rock and pop band in the 1960s and 1970s, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold over an estimated 100 million records worldwide. They achieved fame again in 2005 when the Des McAnuff helmed musical Jersey Boys, which started at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004, opened on Broadway where it won the Tony Award for Best Musical and would run for 4,642 performances, finally closing just this past January. There have been National Tours on the road since 2006 and one is currently at the Ahmanson Theatre. Jersey Boys is a jukebox musical in that every song is a hit song and if you are of a certain age, you very clearly remember the lyrics and bop along to the music in your theatre seat. It’s really a musical biography that brings the lives of the four original band members vividly to life. Unlike most jukebox musicals, the songs aren’t shoehorned into a script to feed an emotion or a scene it wasn’t really written for. Here the songs are like a Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra farewell concert—and then I recorded… And it works brilliantly.
The genius of Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice’s book for the show is that they divide up the story among the four young men, each giving their perspectives of how the group dynamics worked in propelling them to success and later breaking them apart. Goombah Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey) founded the group that went through many personnel and name changes until finally making it to the top. His mob connections helped and hindered him and his money management woes and quick temper eventually ruined him. Bob Gaudio (Cory Jeacomo) was the teen aged songwriter whose way with a melody and a lyric really jelled the group. Nick Massi (Keith Hines) was the big, quiet member of the quartet but he still had a great story to tell once he spoke. Frankie Valli (Mark Ballas at most performances) had the unique falsetto voice that set the group above the rest of the boy quartets of their era. Dailey’s thuggish energy drives the show for the early part while Jeacomo’s boyish charm buoys the script. There is no great dramatic arc to the tale—they struggle from gig to gig until finally gaining their well-deserved acclaim, have problems with the women in their lives, and finally their conflicting personalities tear them apart. Ballas (of TV’s Dancing with the Stars fame) has joined the tour just for the Los Angeles engagement and unfortunately his voice often sounds more like that of Donald Duck than Frankie Valli, especially on his solos. His voice does blend in and sounds better within the quartet.
Director McAnuff has glitzed the production up like a high class Vegas spectacular. The propulsive drive of the music (musical direction by Taylor Peckham) and top tech designs by Howell Binkley (lighting), Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound) and Michael Clark (projections) are a feast for the eyes and ears. Kiara Zieglerova’s scenic design consists of two spiral staircases rising to a second level and lots of small on and off set pieces. McAnuff has a tendency to overuse the set–having his cast constantly going up a staircase, making a long cross and then descending the other staircase–mostly for no dramatic reason, just to keep the eyes engaged. But as Tracy Turnblad famously said, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and the beat of these Jersey Boys songs is just irresistible.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. in Los Angeles. Ends June 24. www.centertheatregroup.org