A PR firm invited me and a guest to a recent weeknight performance to Jersey Boys. I brought DH along and then put him to work as my guest blogger. A quick note from me. Three out of the last five musicals I've seen have been performed by elementary school students, so it's no surprise I loved the show. And the backstage tour afterward was a real treat.
The school band director has given parents a heads-up on field trip to see Billy Elliot in 2010. The trip is for the students, of course, but I just might need to chaperon. There are several family-friendly options for the upcoming subscription year. See the Broadway in Chicago site to learn more.
When I was a kid the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was already oldies. I was never into “street-corner pop” or easy listening, and preferred music that had a back story or a message. The major ‘60s icons (The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Who) recorded albums with innovative techniques, depth and purpose, spawning a revolution that changed the course of human society. In contrast, I felt most music that preceded Bob Dylan was fluff: simple love songs about juvenile topics meant only for dancing to. Enjoying a song like “Sherry” would have hurt my cred as a soulful pre-teen.
Watching the exciting musical biography, Jersey Boys, reminded me first that Valli and his group were still racking up hits in the ‘70s of my youth (“My Eyes Adored You,” “Who Loves You,” “December 1963 [Oh, What a Night]”). As well, the four lads had endured lives with just enough tragedy for Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to weave a story that, if not epic, is dramatic enough to breathe life into these four men, of whom I had only ever heard of the lead singer.
Still, their calamities—debt to the mob, jail time, divorce, losing a child to an overdose—never came through in their hits: “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like a Man.”
And although the legend of the band includes a Joe-Pesci-like character (literally Joe Pesci, who brought Gaudio to the group, although he was portrayed more as My Cousin Vinny goofy than Goodfellas tough), the music never seemed gritty, nor inspired myth. A great song like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” doesn't invite listeners to look behind the lyrics at the tortured soul beyond. And yet, Valli is an ironic figure, a hoodlum with a falsetto higher than anyone before the Bee Gees.
This was a feel-good musical, a hand-clapping, foot-stomping nostalgia trip to the 1960s, and it was impossible not to get dragged along with it. Songwriters Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe penned some brilliant work and made excellent use of one of the most unique voices to come out of Rock and Roll. Far more than one- or two- or even six-hit wonders, the Four Seasons produced an impressive catalogue of catchy, peppy tunes and dramatic ballads that, while they didn't define the ‘60s, have enough staying power to entertain decades later. Many of these made it to the stage at Bank of America Theater and had me grooving along.
The acting, singing and dancing in Jersey Boys was terrific, and the minimalist design made creative use of two staircases and a balcony to add height to the set and put distance between the characters. Dominic Scaglione Jr.'s on-key falsetto like Valli’s and convincingly portrayed him as both a troubled teenager and a wizened adult.
But perhaps most importantly, watching the play makes me want to listen to “Sherry” again, this time without any shame at all.