Sunday, September 11, 2011

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You"

"Jersey Boys” keeps you riveted and won’t let you go.
Ever since I saw Joseph Leo Bwarie (Frankie Valli) perform a song from “Jersey Boys” on both the Tony Awards and the Academy Awards, I’ve been excited about seeing this Broadway musical.
Finally, they arrived this week in Omaha for a three-week run at the Orpheum Theater. Oh boy, did they ever arrive!
Friday’s official opening night performance played to a full house. It’s a wonder the roof didn’t come off of the 84-year-old building, if not due to the thunderous response of the audience, then surely due to the incredible vocal range of the show’s star!
Joseph Leo Bwarie is a vocal marvel.

Four underprivileged Jersey kids carved out a huge pop career for themselves as The Four Seasons. This is the story of their meteoric rise (after years of struggle) in the emerging rock and roll world, where they continued for four decades. After their first hit, “Sherry,” in 1962, came another, and another, and another. While still in their 20s, they had sold 175 million records. Some reasons for their success: they wrote their own songs (thanks to the brilliant Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, who is also portrayed in the show, by Jonathan Hadley, created their own unique sound (thanks to an incredibly talented Frankie Valli), and insisted on doing it their way.
Along with the successes came failures – relationships faltered, alcohol and drugs tempted, love came and went, laws were broken or bent, disagreements sowed dissent, and tragedy struck. Each of the four original members of the group recalled things slightly differently, so the play’s creators decided to tell it narrative-style from each of their perspectives. It works on many levels.
First, it delivers a breakneck pace. Second, it gives you time to bond with each character, investing emotionally in them. Third, it provides humor. Fourth, it presents a unique way of telling a fascinating, and to most of us unknown, story.
The set is stark, a scaffolding of metal staircases and walkways. It works brilliantly, providing for exits while the next scene is beginning (hence that fast pace). Overhead, old-fashioned comic book-like panels provide some more context. Especially fascinating are the projected black and white scenes of appearances on “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” as the scene is filmed “live” on the stage. It is impossible to discern if those scenes are the originals! It’s very cool.
The band, up to 10 pieces, is onstage throughout, moving around from scene to scene. And they are marvelous.
But wait, I haven’t even gotten to the best parts: The actors, especially the four who portray the group, from their days as The Four Lovers, and other equally-bad group names, to The Four Seasons. From Bwarie (Valli) with his nearly four octave range to Quinn VanAntwerp (Bob Gaudio), Matt Bailey (Tommy DeVito) and understudy Adam Zelasko (Nick Massi), all were perfection. They sounded fabulous as they replicated the Four Seasons’s songs. The crowd went wild with every song – and there were a lot of them.
Standouts were “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Rag Doll,” and on and on.
But it was “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” that threatened to blow that roof off.
One other really good thing is the sound quality. You can hear every word, spoken or sung. And that is not always the case.
The rest of the cast is also excellent, playing multiple roles
Be advised that it’s not for pre-teens. The story deals with jail, mobsters, loan sharks, and the “f-bomb” is sprinkled liberally – sometimes with great comedic result (hey, these were guys who had done time or narrowly avoided it).
The thing is, this isn’t just a good story or good music. It’s the whole package, adding up to a powerful – and fun – experience. It is infectious, you find yourself moving to the music and in some cases singing along (don’t).
I’ve seen many musicals old and new, and this is far and away the best contemporary musical I’ve seen.
If you are planning to see it, you’d better hurry because I guarantee seats will fill up fast.
Of note: you’ve only got two more performances (Sunday’s) to see the uber-talented VanAntwerp before he leaves to star as Bob on the Great White Way. The good news is, he’ll be replaced by the vastly-talented Preston Truman Boyd, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when he was in Omaha starring as the Monster in “Young Frankenstein.” And a new "Nick Massi" will come from Canada next week, when he wraps up his appearance with that tour. And be advised that Frankie Valli is portrayed by an understudy at some performances.
No matter what, the show will go on, as good as or better than ever, of that I’m sure.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. It is a masterpiece, with music everyone will love.
As Time Magazine proclaimed, “It will run for centuries!” But in Omaha, only now through September 25.

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