The Best of the Jukebox
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
The musical Jersey Boys was wildly popular when the touring show first arrived in Canada in 2008. Then in 2009, it reopened in Toronto with an all-Canadian cast, and many fans, myself included, went back to see it again, and then a third time, too. Later I saw another touring company when it visited London’s Budweiser Gardens in 2015. Now seven years later it is coming to regional theatres, and congratulations go to Gananoque’s Thousand Island Playhouse for being the first in the area to offer the ever-popular Jersey Boys.
Jersey Boys is the best of the jukebox musicals – musical theatre productions where the story of the singers is told and their songs are woven around the story. Famous in this category are Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, and Ain’t Too Proud, the story of The Temptations.
Other jukebox musicals are those where existing songs are used, but the story is a new one, such as Mamma Mia which is a unique tale told with Abba music, We Will Rock You, a futuristic story told with Queen music, or Rock of Ages, a comedy told with 1980s rock hits.
Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We learn the early history – Tommy DeVito and his brother Nick are bad boys – singing under street lamps, and pulling jewellery store break-and-enters. They hear about a young teenager who sings like an angel, Frankie Castelluccio, and get him to join their trio. Frankie changes his last name to Valli with an “i”, not a “y”, on the advice of his future wife, Mary. She says that he’s Italian and Italian words end in a vowel, like pizza. So it has to be an “i”, Mary explains – “y” is a b*llsh*t letter because it doesn’t know if it’s a vowel or a consonant.
Between jail time and personnel changes, the Four Seasons evolve. Tommy is the self-proclaimed leader, with Frankie, and Nick Massi, then later Bob Gaudio joins. When the stars align, producer Bob Crewe finally records them. Crewe, Frankie says, has the best ears in the business, to which Crewe replies, “All my body parts are outstanding.” Their hit “Sherry” tops the charts and the “whole world explodes”.
The story about their rise to fame is made even more interesting because the audience gets four different interpretations. Each member of the Four Seasons takes a turn at being narrator, and gets to tell the story from their own perspective. Each Jersey Boy has a different memory about how they became chart toppers of early American rock and roll. We hear all the favourites, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Rag Doll”, “My Eyes Adored You” and many more.
The four members of the group are portrayed by excellent actor/singer/dancers. Kale Penny has always impressed me with his singing voice, but this musical gives him the chance to show his acting ability. He handles the part of tough guy Tommy DeVito perfectly, with just the right mix of anger, conceit and swagger. Niko Combitsis offers an exact replica of Frankie Valli’s high falsetto singing voice and even looks like Valli.
Tyler Check is a perfect Nick Massi, staying calm and cool on their rise to fame, then suddenly exploding with pent-up rage at Tommy’s disgusting lack of hygiene habits. Check is very convincing with his anger. These three key players exude the Jersey attitude.
Trevor Patt is excellent as Bob Gaudio, the fourth of the Four Seasons. Gaudio is the intellectual of the group and has the talent for song writing. Patt has a rich, full voice, perfect for the part. His “Oh, What a Night” (which is actually entitled “December 1963”) has the energy appropriate for Gaudio’s, ummm, first time.
The rest of the characters are also very well cast, with many of them taking on several roles.
Director/Choreographer Julie Tomaino keeps the show moving at a fast pace, while maintaining pauses for laughter and quiet poignant moments. The familiar Four Seasons walk and their finger snapping movement is well synchronized.
The only concern I had about the show is the sound on opening night. It was sometimes difficult to hear the spoken parts, particularly the three female characters. Other times, the singing was drowned out by the horn players and at times we couldn’t hear Frankie’s solos. I question the need for the horn section – Frankie doesn’t ask for horns until much later in the show, so they aren’t needed until he sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. I trust issues with sound will be addressed quickly.
Jersey Boys is a hit show, having won the 2006 Tony for Best Musical. It is a real crowd-pleaser, having run on Broadway from 2005 to 2017. Taking a popular musical and finding a very talented cast is the recipe for a great show. The full house on opening night was very appreciative and this brilliant cast was rewarded with a long standing ovation. So get your tickets now, as it’s likely to keep selling out.
Jersey Boys continues at the Thousand Island Playhouse, Gananoque until October 30. Tickets are available by calling 613-382-7020 or visit https://www.1000islandsplayhouse.com/whats-on/
1. Bob Gaudio (Trevor Patt), Frankie Valli (Niko Combitsis), Tommy DeVito (Kale Penny), and Nick Massi (Tyler Check).
2. Norm Waxman (Robbie Towns), Tommy DeVito (Kale Penny), Bob Gaudio (Trevor Patt), Frankie Valli (Niko Combitsis), Nick Massi (Tyler Check), and Gyp DeCarlo (Daniel Williston)
Photos by Randy deKleine-Stimpson
Jersey Boys – The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Written by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio, Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino
Musical Direction by David Terriault
Performed by Tyler Check, Niko Combitsis, Caleb Di Pomponio, Kaleigh Gorka, Maya Lacey, Stewart Adam McKensy, Zoe O’Connor, Trevor Patt, Kale Penny, Robbie Towns, Daniel Williston.
Springer Theatre, Thousand Island Playhouse, Gananoque
September 27 to October 30, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson