Jersey Boys Review Forrest Theatre - The Four Seasons Truly Rock
We had the opportunity to review the debut of Jersey Boys at the Forrest Theatre, at 11th and Walnut Streets. One of the group’s biggest hits was “December, 1963” (although better known to the public as “Oh, What a Night”). I can state categorically that whether it is “December, 1963” or “December, 2011”, the music of the Four Seasons remains timeless. People will still be listening to it in December, 2063 (and hopefully, I’ll still be around to see if my prediction is correct on that score!)
We can also state categorically, that it’s among the best we’ve ever seen. Philadelphia had the honor of being the launch site, so to speak, for the second national tour of Jersey Boys, and it was really something to see.
Without giving away the story of the show- it basically traces the upward arc of the band from the humblest of beginnings: Belleville, NJ, a gritty, working-class suburb of industrial Newark. Let’s start with the backstory:
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons Were the Most Successful Pop/Rock Band Prior to the Beatles, And Remain Among the Most Successful Pop/Rock Bands of All Time
For those in my Generation-X, and/or those younger, it’s impossible to overstate, where Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons rank in the pop/rock band firmament. At their peak in the early 1960s, they were the most successful pop/rock band, ever, up until that point- “band”, that is, thus excluding luminaries Elvis and Frank Sinatra.
In summary, prior to the arrival of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc., and other British Invasion groups, they were the most popular group that had ever existed. In 1990, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons sold 175 million records – which, to this day, ranks them among the most successful entertainers of all time. (And they did all this, prior to reaching 30!)
Or, look at it this way. There are 33 songs in the show, five of which were #1 hits. But another true measurement of their accomplishments, are the number of songs that aren’t in the show – and listed wistfully in the Playbill, as “The Ones That Got Away”. They had 19 hits, that aren’t included – and that group includes five songs that reached the top 10!
Bob Gaudio - the show’s composer, an original member of the Four Seasons, and author of many of its hits - told me in an interview, prior to the show, that:
His favorite song among those he had written and/or co-written - "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" - didn’t even make the cut!
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons also wrote nearly all of their own songs, further burnishing their credentials, as one of the great pioneers of the pop/rock genre.
Moreover, in the mid-20th century, bands had only one way to stardom: mainstream radio airplay. There was no Internet, no iPods, and no alternative rock radio stations. If DJs played your albums, and you appeared on American Bandstand, you made it; if you didn’t, you didn’t.
Jersey Boys Review Forrest Theatre - What's the Show About?
The official summary of the show's subject says it best: Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. This is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were thirty.
Jersey Boys is what is known as a “jukebox musical” – i.e., a musical in which the audience is already familiar with the music, and for which the musical numbers were not written specifically for the theatrical show. Another hugely successful entry in the genre was Rock of Ages, which we reviewed in October, and which we also loved.
However, there was an important challenge that faced the authors of Jersey Boys, as opposed to Rock of Ages. Rock of Ages had a fictional plot – a story which was simply set in 1987. In strong contrast, Jersey Boys is a biography of the Four Seasons, and had to structure itself based on the actual historical events of the group’s ascension, up the ladder of fame. This is much more arduous for a writer.
Naturally, as a Generation-Xer, I strongly self-identified with the jukebox music of Rock of Ages, having lived through it (albeit, when I was very young). But although the Four Seasons’ heyday was before my time, I was, of course, very familiar with the group’s music, long before Jersey Boys. As an enthusiast of popular culture, I could have easily named several Four Seasons songs, and that Frankie Valli had been the lead singer, if I were playing Quizo (a popular bar trivia game in Philadelphia). And I’ve always liked their music.
Their influence remains powerful to the present day. For Millennials reading this, Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas-fame, among the megastars of 21st century pop music) opted to record a sad ballad called “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – a direct reference to the Four Seasons’ hit of the same name.
The cast of Jersey Boys featured Philadelphia-area native Brandon Andrus (Nick Massi), Colby Foytik (Tommy DeVito), Jason Kappus (Bob Gaudio) and Brad Weinstock (Frankie Valli) as The Four Seasons, with Barry Anderson and Thomas Fiscella.
The ensemble of Jersey Boys included Stephen Cref, E. Clayton Cornelious, Kaleigh Cronin, Brent DiRoma, Larry Esparza, Natalie Gallo, Devon Goffman, Wes Hart, Dave Hiltebrand, Ruby Lewis, Christopher Messina, Hayden Milanes, Michelle Pruiett, Skye Scott and Carlos Valdes.
Last year’s phenomenal premiere engagement of Jersey Boys at the Forrest Theatre broke box office records and entertained over 140,000 theatergoers. Jersey Boys now holds the record for the highest weekly gross ever at the Forrest Theatre. JERSEY BOYS is the winner of the 2006 Best Musical Tony Award®, the 2006 Grammy Award® for Best Musical Show Album, the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Musical and the 2010 Helpmann Award for Best Musical (Australia). JERSEY BOYS worldwide has been seen by approximately 13 million people (as of July 17, 2011).
Directed by two-time Tony® Award-winner Des McAnuff, JERSEY BOYS is written by Academy Award-winner Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
We were particularly impressed by the performances of the actors playing the Four Seasons themselves. These roles – particularly that of Frankie – require aging over 40 years in 2 ½ hours, making over a dozen “quick changes” of costume, singing dozens of songs (many of them in high falsetto), dance well – and be fine actors, to boot. Given the demands of their roles, these actors were nothing short of sensational.
Our favorite numbers:
“Sherry” – (interestingly, “Oh, Sherry”, was in Rock of Ages)
“Walk Like a Man”
“Working My Way Back To You”
“Dawn (Go Away)”
If you are from my generation or younger, you may be surprised to learn that some songs which you associated with other artists, were in fact, first recorded and often written by The Four Seasons.
In an interview prior to the show, with its co-author Marshall Brickman, I asked him how challenging it was to write a script where the audience will not only be familiar with, but actually expect, certain songs. He replied that while “the audience is already 'pre-sold' on the music, it was a tough decision determining what songs to leave out. Because if we included all of their hits, the audience would still be there at 4 in the morning!”
The show deals candidly with the dark side of The Four Seasons’ meteoric rise to superstardom: family tragedy, loan sharks, ties to organized crime, illegal drug use, marital infidelity, personal jealousy, and strained friendships all punctuated the group’s ascension.
One of the most intriguing themes is the name itself, The Four Seasons. The show starts in Spring, continues through Summer, and concludes with Fall and Winter. And each member serves as narrator at some point, providing four different perspectives.
In summary, we think Jersey Boys is not to be missed during its Philadelphia run.
The One Aspect of Jersey Boys That We Didn’t Enjoy – The Profanity, Officially Described As "Authentic Jersey Language." Don’t Take the Kids.
In addition to both being jukebox musicals, another strong similarity between Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages was the amount of profanity in the script. We have no doubt that the language accurately reflects the conversations of the Four Seasons, as working-class Italian guys growing up in mid-20th-century, urban New Jersey. But nonetheless, the profanity was gratuitous. Accordingly, the language isn’t appropriate for children, and despite all of its other merits, we can’t recommend Jersey Boys as family-friendly entertainment, for that reason.
And the profanity's not the only reason to leave the kids home. Moreover, this conclusion is not simply our own opinion. As the official tour web site acknowledges, with remarkable candor: Jersey Boys is not recommended for all ages. The show contains smoke, gun shots, strobe lights, drug references, sexual situations and profane "authentic Jersey language."
Jersey Boys has launched a new Second National Tour at the Forrest Theatre, from Dec. 6 – Jan. 14.
Tickets for JERSEY BOYS begin at $52.50, and are now available by calling 800.447.7400 or online at www.telecharge.com/jbphilly or at the Forrest Theatre box office (1114 Walnut St). VIP Ticket Packages are also available for all performances. Groups of 20 or more call 866.276.2947 or 215.790.5883.
For more information, please visit www.forrest-theatre.com or www.JerseyBoysTour.com.
The performance schedule is: Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm;
Friday & Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm;
Sunday evenings at 6:30 pm;
matinees Saturdays at 2:00 pm & Sundays at 1:00 pm,
and weekday matinees on Dec. 21, Dec. 28 and Jan. 11 at 2:00 pm.
Additional evening performances are scheduled for Dec. 19, Dec. 26 and Jan. 9 at 7:30 pm.
There will be no performances on Saturday, Dec. 24, Sunday, Dec. 25 and Sunday, Jan 1.
Performance schedule, prices and cast are subject to change without notice.