Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: 'Jersey Boys'

A new national tour cast opens of "Jersey Boys" opens in Philadelphia for a five-week run. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews from the Forrest Theatre in Center City.

Review: 'Jersey Boys'

Blog Image
The "Jersey Boys" performing at the Forrest Theatre: (from left) Brandon Andrus, Brad Weinstock, Jason Kappus and Colby Foytik. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
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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.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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