I actually went to see Jersey Boys last month, on October 25th – I just haven’t gotten around to blogging about the experience yet. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, because the songs were a little before my time (understatement) and I didn’t know anything about the group The Four Seasons. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It entertained me, even though I was born thirty years after the band’s heyday. The writing throughout was quite good; as an aspiring writer myself, I have to give big props to anyone able to sneak the phrase “objective correlative” into a musical and have it make sense.
Of course, my background also means I’ll nitpick some of the technical aspects of the writing. The “Four Seasons” arrangement of the plot bothered me. Perhaps I’m a little jaded from being in fiction classes, but it seemed over-contrived. It would have been better storytelling to leave out the overt “Season” label at the start of each section (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and let the play progress on its own. The audience notices the transitions when each new character starts narrating the story; to harp on it is overkill. The set coloring and emotional tone of the plot suggested the seasons already, so the flashy title cards on the on-stage Jumbotron were too much (for me at least).
One part of the Four Seasons set-up I did think was well done was the choice of which group member got which “season”. Tommy had to be the starter, because his strength was in starting the band. Bob got the best part, the height of the band, because it was his composer chops that got them their hits. Nicky got the fall, which was the shortest (and probably the weakest) of the seasons – that part suffered at the expense of letting the other three shine, and Winter got the emotional payoff of that section. But it matched the group member’s path. And naturally Frankie got the conclusion, because he was the band’s last man standing, and was superstar enough to handle the play’s conclusion.
The standout stage moment of the musical was when the giant screen showed original American Bandstand footage of the actual band while the actors on stage performed identical choreography. I didn’t like the use of the Jumbotron for the most part (early 2000s digital vogue?) but for that sequence, it was perfect. Overall, I wasn’t particularly impressed with stage design here. It was very bare-bones, which was certainly practical for a based-on-true-life story, but it wasn’t even as eye-pleasing as, say, Rent. This one was just okay. It’s like they blew the budget on the Jumbotron and had to resort to scaffolding.
Speaking of set design, I’m still ambivalent about the part where the searingly bright lights were turned on the unsuspecting audience. I get that it was supposed to convey a feeling of actually being on stage like the band, but the sudden shift in POV definitely drew more attention to the fact that it was a gimmick being used. Plus, the lights made my eyes water. Ugh.
While the stage was underwhelming, the cast excelled. There were Jersey accents galore (sprinkled with a liberal helping of oaths) and heaps of personality. There was an understudy for Bobby on the night I attended, who was actually very, very good. That was the character I related to the most (the writer, naturally), and the actor did an impeccable job. Also wonderful: the smaller roles. Kudos to the one black guy who played about 50 roles. The flamboyant industry man stole the stage when his character was up. And little Joe was a member of the 90s boy band Dreamstreet. Who knew?
The audience skewed waaaaay past my age group, and even past my parents’ age group. These were the people who were tweens and teens when this band was at its height. They were singing along throughout, and danced at the end. They would gasp in surprise when a song came up that they recognized. Made me wonder what musical I’ll be dancing along to in the 2050s.
The music was generally out of my experience. I only knew “Who Wears Short Shorts” from the Nair commercial. The others I got mostly from covers (Barry Manilow). Others I knew from guest appearances in movies, like “Earth Angel” (Back to the Future), “Walk Like a Man” (Mrs. Doubtfire). I also recognized “Sherry”, not sure from where. But the rest were basically new experiences.
The overall effect was…really something. The closest sound I could relate it to from my generation would be 1990s boy-band. The four-part harmony has been out-of-style recently. The genius of the 90s boy bands was using that harmony, although I remember more 5-member than 4-member groups (N*SYNC and the Backstreet Boys are the big two). Maybe it will come back in style someday. I would take the original “Big Girls Don’t Cry” over “Gangnam Style” anytime.