By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
It wasn’t just the bright new national-tour cast of Jersey Boys up on the Forrest Theatre stage, bowing to wild enthusiasm at the curtain call for Friday’s opening in its very first stop.
There, standing amid the guys who play the Four Seasons and the sizable ensemble that backs them, was the creative team — the folks who devised the show that won the best-musical Tony in 2006 and that has proceeded, in several national tours, to win over audiences nationally.
There was Bob Gaudio, the hit-churning songwriter and longtime Four Seasons performer, whose compositions — “Sherrie,” “Big Girls Don't Cry,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like a Man,” to name only a few — are indelible in an American generation’s history. He bowed standing next to the actor Jason Kappus, who portrays him so appealingly on stage and bears an uncanny resemblance to Gaudio's younger self. Gaudio and Bob Crewe, the record producer who frequently helped with the lyrics and is portrayed in Jersey Boys by Barry Anderson, put their major work together as the score of the show.
Also taking bows were Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who collaborated on the show’s charming, fast-moving book that puts audiences both in front and in back of the stages that defined the group’s career in constant motion, from bowling alleys to two-bit clubs tp major arenas to, finally, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sure, the story is romanticized in Jersey Boys, but even so, every strange plot point is true; if you had to create the story of the Four Seasons from whole cloth, it would probably seem synthetic.
Also on stage was the director, Des McAnuff, whose mettle has energized many shows, and who’s imposed a kinetic sensibility onto Jersey Boys that seems to make it move almost every second. And there was Sergio Trujillo, the choreographer who’s given the Four Seasons of Jersey Boys the sort of ’60s and ’70s steps and body language that rock groups only wish they’d had in the actual ’60s and ’70s. For six years now, Trujillo’s moves have been, hands-down (or circling, or ebulliently thrust in the air), the most macho on Broadway.
It was a treat to have the show's creators up there, a sight rare even on Broadway. But they themselves were excited for the new tour cast; so was the audience and so was I. While he may not have the smooth lower register of Frankie Valli, Brad Weinstock nails his crystal falsetto, the most defining part. As the plot moves forward, so does Weinstock’s ease in showing Valli’s Jersey street-smart ethic, in which a handshake is a Krazy-Glued trust. (Valli himself was said to be at an Ohio commitment during Friday’s opening.)
Brandon Andrus, a Philadelphia-area native, plays Nick Massi, the quiet Four Season original, and Colby Foytik is the group’s founder, the brash and careless Tommy DeVito. Each slips into his role, then builds on it. The supporting ensemble is just as fine.
Jersey Boys’ Philly premiere last winter holds the record for the highest weekly gross in the Forrest Theatre's 83-year history. My guess is, for this five-week run, they'd better make sure the ticket machines there are working at least as smoothly as the show.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Jersey Boys: Playing at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St., through Jan. 14. Tickets: $59-$150. Information: 1-800-447-7400 or www.forrest-theatre.com.