By Olivia Popp
“Jersey Boys,” playing at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, chronicles the rise of Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons and finally the combination of the both — eventually Valli’s solo act, known as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Valli (Jonny Wexler, played by Ben Bogen), forever known as the singer with the nearly alarmingly strong and high falsetto voice, eventually overshadows self-appointed band leader Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan) and lanky follower Nick Massi (Chris Stevens). The jukebox musical pays tribute to the band itself as well as the relationships between the members, occasionally humoring, sometimes humanizing but never glamorizing the rocky — or in the case of songwriter Ben Gaudio (Tommasco Antico) and Valli, blossoming — relationships of the men.
With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (the team that brought you “The Addams Family”), music credited to Gaudio, “Jersey Boys” weaves snappy scenes with musical and dance numbers, mostly performed as moments from The Four Seasons concerts, shows and recording sessions rather than as part of the plot itself. This doesn’t take away from the importance of the numbers, however; the numbers instead follow their chronological rise to fame, growing into bigger and bigger hits. The musical also includes lyrics credited to Bob Crewe, the band’s long-time producer (whose role and influence in the band’s existence severely reduced due to the musical’s understandable inability to include every possible character in the story).
The initially seemingly overdone play off of the band’s name (each character acted as the narrator in one-quarter of the production — each “season” — cycling through each member) became an effective measure to get varying perspectives without laboring over yet another musical with a narrative. Instead, it allowed deeper insight into each of the characters’ motivations to join (and leave) the band, provided a look into the rickety landscape of show business, and ridded the production of a necessity to actually know who the band was — audience members just needed to bring an open ear and an appreciation for musical spectacle.
Bogen plays Valli with careful tentativeness, turning from the shy teenager into the big-name star that he was once known as, never failing to nail those impressive, ear-blasting high notes as seen in The Four Seasons hit “Sherry” very quickly early in the musical. Greenan, who begins the musical narrating as DeVito plays into the musical’s brash characterization of the band member, his money troubles putting the band in trouble. Stevens as Massi acts as the musical’s comedic relief, both his physical stature and behavior making the audience feel simultaneously sorry for him and impressed he kept with the band so long. Last but not least, Antico as the talented, charming Gaudio becomes the most likable member of the group, Antico’s beaming stage presence providing enjoyable chemistry with Bogen’s Valli.
With a number of hits and standout arrangements, several including clever projection design by Michael Clark in which the performers’ choreography was synced with a corresponding video shown on the back of the set (as if broadcast live), “Cry for You” was the first time the audience sees the most well-known Four Seasons (although the band did cycle through a large number of members) performing together. With Gaudio introducing the song on the piano, Valli and the rest eventually joining it, it remains as a heart-touching moment, far beyond the group’s eventual separation — indicating that it didn’t matter what changed, as that moment The Four Seasons was born.
Even though I didn’t grow up listening to Frankie Valli (and the Four Seasons) like most of the cheering, older and largely female audience (some even stood up and screamed as Bogen hit those iconic Valli falsetto notes), I knew and bopped my head along to classic hits including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” I’m a sucker for classic throwbacks, especially rock — and to be honest, it makes me feel like an old soul. After seeing “Jersey Boys,” I started listening to the soundtrack and the original Four Seasons tracks — so you know the musical was a success.