“Jersey Boys” is a hit at PPAC

By Kimberly Rau

“Jersey Boys,” which may be one of the best jukebox musicals on tour right now, is back at PPAC through Sunday, and if you’re a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons or just have some good old fashioned Italian American Pride, you should make time to check it out before it closes Sunday.

Directed by Tony Award-winner Des Mcanuff, “Jersey Boys” starts off in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1960s, where the teenage Francis Castelluccio is just starting to be known for his falsetto voice. Noting that one of the only other options for young boys in that area at that time is to get “mobbed up,” musician Tommy DeVito pulls him on stage and changes his life forever. The story follows the band–which goes through almost as many name changes as it does group members–from their start playing bowling halls and dive bars to their admission into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though the original Four Seasons eventually disband–Tommy due to some mob-related money issues, Nick after he realizes the tour life isn’t for him, and Bob when he comes to understand he’d rather produce than perform–, Frankie soldiers on, now as part of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The story is not about a meteoric rise, but rather a slow, fantastic build, complete with mob influences, gunfire, and more than one divorce. With a killer song selection and an engaging story, it’s worth the two hours and forty minutes you’ll be in the theater.

Part of the reason the show is so wonderful is that the “original four” are so well-cast. While any trip to the theater requires some suspension of disbelief, these guys make it easy. On press night, understudy Tony L. Clements stood in for Valli. Clements has the look, the moves, and an extensive range and seemingly effortless falsetto, so it’s easy to forget you’re not actually at, say, a taping of the Ed Sullivan Show. Jonathan Cable gives us a solid, deadpan-funny Nick Massi, who is more at home at home than on the road, and whose threats to leave and start his own group are taken as a joke, until one day he ups and leaves (but not to start a group). His loyalty and admiration of Valli are clear thanks to some strong acting choices from Cable. Eric Chambliss plays the musical genius Bob Gaudio, who actually had a hit with “Short Shorts” well before the Four Seasons. Recognizing that he is a one-hit-wonder, Gaudio joins the group and is one of the reasons they are so successful, penning a bunch of their big hits, including the smash “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” which almost never saw the light of day. It’s Gaudio’s persistence that gets it to the top of the charts, and Chambliss is easy to believe in the role. And Corey Greenan plays the group puppet master Tommy Devito…that is until Devito gets in too deep with some loan sharks and is literally banished, to Las Vegas. Greenan is solid in this role, never letting us forget that Devito would have been a pretty intimidating character to stand up to. The scene when the group finally does is one of the best in the show. Together, the four are impeccable-sounding, harmonizing beautifully and owning every moment. 

One of the key themes of the show is the fact that you never forget where you came from, and it’s especially poignant, then, that one of Rhode Island’s own is part of the cast. Kevin Patrick Martin, who has done extensive work in several professional Rhode Island theaters, plays, among many other bit roles, the loan shark Norm Waxman and eventual Four Seasons member Joe Long. Though he wears many hats in this production, he wears them all well.

Between the song catalog, the era-perfect costumes and some really clever sets, this show is one of the most fun to come to PPAC this year. If you’ve got the time, check it out, and enjoy.