Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and how they came to be huge pop stars in the 60’s and 70’s and even beyond. I read in the New York Post on the weekend that the real Frankie Valli was performing a sold out show to 10,o00 with Connie Francis. Not too shabby for an aging Joisey boiy. And what a show this is, the biography on stage. There’s no filler – it’s all good stuff and it moves, entertains and delights all the way through.
You could never count me among the group’s biggest fans but I liked their songs, more or less. However, I had no idea about their complicated history, how young Frankie was plucked from obscurity (and saved from living the life of a hoodlum) by the leader of a fledgling singing group who had mob ties and a gambling problem. They found fame, fortune and faltered and nearly lost it all more than once. Loyalty to leader cost them dearly, financially and otherwise. Life on the road proved too tempting for some to maintain their supposedly important families back home. “Family is everything”, is said or hinted at more than once in the show, usually out of a mouth of a guy who ruined his family by living the life of a pampered pop star. Their record company was so grateful for all of the sales that they provided a hooker for each man, married or not! At another point one of the guys in the Four Seasons says, “You try selling 3 million records in less than a month and see what it does to you.” Touche.
What Jersey Boys doesn’t do is wring every last breath out of each song. Legendary hits like Sherry Baby and Walk Like A Man aren’t milked for their nostalgic value. They’re used to define an era or demonstrate a new plateau in the group’s career. In some cases, only a verse and chorus of huge hits are sung – and sung brilliantly. These guys are stupidly talented and each takes a turn narrating the story, which I can only compare to the film, That Thing You Do, for its ability to put us – the audience – into the mindset of what it was like to take the wild ride to fame and beyond. The staging is brilliant. At one point a performance by the guys is played to the back of the stage, putting the audience backstage! It all happens quickly with very few set pieces and little fuss.
The standing ovation started before the end of the show. And never – and I mean never – have I been to a live performance during which an entire audience stayed absolutely mute during a dramatic scene with no dialogue. It was one of the show’s very rare quiet moments. And no one made a single sound, not even a cough. It was indicative of how much we were all with them, riding on this tidal wave of a story, enraptured by the turn of events and holding our collective breath until motion returned to the stage and the tragic reason for the pause was revealed.
Tickets for Jersey Boys in Toronto are on sale through to the end of November. If you’ve been thinking about going but wondered if it was worth it, it is. The young couples on either side of us and the older folks ahead of us all agreed. On Broadway, Jersey Boys won the Tony Award for Best Musical and rightly so. It may be the best musical I’ve ever seen.