Review: The Jersey Boys Tour – Chicago Stop

Jersey Boys came to Chicago in early April for a two month stay. I finally found the time to go and watch this production with a friend. Though I generally enjoyed the music from the Four Seasons, I wasn’t really a huge fan, so when a musical based on the rise and fall of the Four Seasons came out I was skeptical. To me it seemed to fall into the world of the “Jukebox Musical”.

What is a “Jukebox Musical”? Well I suppose the most basic definition would be a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its musical score.

Some of the more known / popular jukebox musicals include:
– Mamma Mia
– American Idiot
– Million Dollar Quartet
– Rock of Ages

But we’re talking about The Jersey Boys and as apprehensive as I was coming in, I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would. The cast, the staging, the music… and I heard the music soundtrack ahead of time and enjoyed that. When looking at The Jersey Boys Tour website, I noticed that there were two tours going on simultaneously. Of the two tours, Chicago got the “Tour 1” cast which included:
Preston Truman Boyd as Bob Gaudio
Joseph Leo Bwarie as Frankie Valli
John Gardiner as Tommy DeVito
Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi
And man… don’t they look pretty. 😛

All oogling aside. What I didn’t realize about the story is that each of the members of the four season took their place in narrating the rise and fall of The Four Seasons. The show opens with Tommy DeVito narrating the quick pace of how the quartet brought Frankie into the fold and trained him up a little and introducing him to his first wife. Then about midway through the first act Bob takes over narration at around the time that he was introduced to the other three and they became the quartet and continued as the group struggled with being the back-up singers and finding a hit that took them to the top. Then ending with the loan shark meeting with The Four Seasons to announce that they are there to collect Tommy’s debts.

At the start of the second act, Nick Massi brings the audience to the start of the dissipation of The Four Seasons, first from the meeting with the loan shark with Frankie’s promise that the group would pay off all of Tommy’s debts. When the trio acts travels all around the country in hopes to make enough to clear the debt Nick blurts that he wants out of the group and leaves which from there Frankie takes over the narration to the end. Here Bob also leaves the group turning Frankie from being part of a quartet to being a solo act with backup singers.

How the narration happens was absolutely seemless in my eyes, where every narrator was popping in and out of scenes to be either an active player or the narrator providing the narration: in between songs and scenes, giving the audience the right amount of expository without it being just a monologue after monologue.

The stage set is fairly sparse, but serves multiple uses. A set of spiral stairs downstage and to the far stage left (house right), spiraling up to a second level: a landing that first moved straight upstage towards the back before coming back downstage and splitting between going offstage or going down the stairs towards stage left.

Considering that the musical tells the story of the creation and dispersion of the Four Seasons, the creators of this production were very smart to take key moments and events and spotlight them when necessary. What I was also impressed with was the ease and flow in between numbers and narration and dialogue. There have been cases where the musical numbers was actually used to show the passing of time, this is most noticeable during the final dispersion of the last two members of the Four Seasons.

Each of the four primary players of the Four Seasons brought a bit of the whole and balanced each other rather well. Though I find myself looking at Leo Bwarie (Frankie), Michael Lomenda (Nick) and Preston Truman Boyd (Bob) more, and in that order… for some reason I found the character of Tommy DeVito rather annoying, but the slight chauvinistic, arrogant attitude always tend to rub me the wrong way, so what can I do? I still loved the character of Tommy in general I am just not drawn into him in any way.

For a jukebox musical, the storyline was pretty solid (as well as obvious), so everything made sense. The music was as such that I am actually tempted to go and consider checking out music from the local library to hear what else they as a group have done as well as what Frankie Valli has accomplished while on his own.

As per the norm for movies and musical where you kind of what to know “where are they now?” each of the members of the Four Seasons gives a quick update of where they have been since their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In the end… to me this is definitely a good way to introduce a jukebox musical. Sure the storyline was a little contrived and predictable in places (for all the obvious reasons) but it was solid enough to carry the story and the music. There were times that I started tearing up, but again that was because I want to be emotionally involved with these characters. If you get a chance to see this production I highly suggest that you do, it’ll be worth it.