Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review of "Jersey Boys" - Bushnell Auditorium

The Broadway smash and worldwide touring sensation, Jersey Boys, makes a triumphant return to the Bushnell Auditorium. The musical, for those not familiar with the production, traces the formation and rise to the top of the charts of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, The Four Seasons (only after three of the four original members left did the group become known as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons).

During its first visit to Hartford, two years ago, I felt the show lacked cohesion as the actors were more caricatures—over emphasizing their rough and tough Jersey roots (and accents)--then portraying real characters. This time around the musical is like a tight, well-rehearsed horn section—full of punch and self-assurance.

The first part of the show builds slowly as characters are introduced, plot lines set-up. However, it’s not until just over halfway through Act I does Jersey Boys begin to hit its stride as the group rockets up the charts with back-to-back-to-back number one hits. The songs encompass the best of the Four Seasons songbook including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Rag Doll,” and many more.

The four stars—Preston Truman Boyd as singer/songwriter, Bob Gaudio; Michael Lomenda as the idiosyncratic, Nick Massi; John Gardiner as the coarse, loudmouth, and self-appointed leader of the group, Tommy DeVito; and Joseph Leo Bwarie, as the diminutive lead singer, Frankie Valli—breathe life into their real-life counterparts. Bwarie, especially, has matured into the role of Frankie Valli. He has played the lead singer for a number of years, but this time around he his portrayal is more nuanced and forthright.

The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice cover a lot of historical ground which, especially in Act II, feels more like a greatest hits collection of the group’s lives as one major event after another is displayed on stage. Still, they handle their assignment deftly, hitting the highs and lows of each member focusing primarily on Frankie Valli after intermission as he steps out to lead a reconfigured Four Seasons.

Director Des McAnuff keeps the show moving briskly from one scene to the next with skillful and self-assured hands. He knows how to pace the production between the peaks and valleys of the storyline, resulting in a satisfying theatrical experience.

Jersey Boys, now at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through November 6th.

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