Sunday, January 8, 2006

They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright…


Well, not that you could tell from the picture below of the Great White Way looking south from the corner of West 52nd Street.

Looking down West 52nd, there’s the August Wilson theatre on the right where Jersey Boys is playing.

To quote a song from the show, Oh, What a Night! It’s an amazingly high energy show with laughs and tears, thoroughly developed characters, great music, and ohmigod — a plot! When was the last time you saw a new musical that actually had one of those? Been a while…

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is one of those rags-to-riches stories that you’ve heard before; it’s the plot of every “Behind the Music” special. But the authors, Marshall Brickman (you know him from his work with Woody Allen) and Rick Elice, don’t treat it as yet another fictionalized/sanitized account of how these kids who sang under a streetlight in blue-collar Joisey “climbed the ladder up to fortune and fame.” The true story of the group provides enough drama to make the plot move along without stretching our credulity, and the songs that made the group famous (and if you’re over a certain age, you’ll sing along) fit into the telling of the tale. This may be another jukebox musical, but at least this time the selections were not made at random.

One plot device that Brickman and Elice used to great effect was telling the story from four different points of view; from each member of the group so that their side could be heard. This made for some fun glimpses at how each one saw the other, and it also made it an ensemble show rather than focusing just on Frankie Valli’s story. The performances were fantastic; Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito, a Tony Soprano-like guy with all the moves of a made guy was both hilarious and brutal (to prove it, there’s a cameo by a very young Joe Pesci); Daniel Reichard as Bob Gaudio, the composer and intellectual cog in the group, made you understand what the guy on the outside really felt like as a part of the team, and J. Robert Spencer as Nick Massi, the one who broke up the group at the height of their fame, clearly portrayed the conflicts he felt. Last but not least was the amazing performance of John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli. Yeah, I’m prejudiced, but still, watching him take the character from a sixteen-year-old kid to an adult and then into middle age was nothing short of miraculous. There was never a false note — literally or figuratively — in his performance, and most importantly, you cared deeply about him.

There were several moments in the show where the scene is a “live” performance at a concert or on television — even to the introduction by Ed Sullivan — and they used the audience as the “audience.” There was no problem whatsoever in playing along; we clapped in time to the music, we stomped and cheered at the end of the song, and we gave them several standing ovations. (Yeah, guess who led each one. Go on, guess.)

After the show I stopped by backstage to give John a big hug and plan for our dinner tomorrow night after the Sunday matinee. He was tired but exhilirated, and he stopped to sign autographs before heading home. I snapped a picture of him with his adoring fans (that’s him in the middle in the stocking cap), and as I told him backstage, it couldn’t have been better, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.