Jersey Boys working its magic at The Wharton Center
When it comes to jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys stands out as the best of the genre. This is because it isn’t simply a collection of songs, but a story, the story of those songs and the people who made them.
“Jersey Boys” is a musical that is plot-driven and the plot is entirely based on a true story. It is storytelling at its finest and it connects with audiences in powerful ways. Touring through Wharton Center this week, “Jersey Boys” is working its magic in East Lansing and doing so with all the power of its earlier tours.
It starts out powerfully and never lets up for the two hours and 45 minutes that it goes through season by season telling the story of The Four Seasons and its four original members. Each season gets a different narrator, starting with Tommy DeVito, played by Matthew Dailey. He’s a gamer who always has something up his sleeve. But his most notable achievement is that he started the group that would become the Four Seasons and managed them for most of their early career.
Dailey is confident in the role and shows both DeVito’s strengths and weaknesses as leader of the group. He has a rough charisma to him, a Jersey attitude that is both tough and committed.
Then comes summer and we meet DeVito’s opposite, Bob Gaudio, played by Drew Seeley. He’s a clean-cut boy without a police record and is brilliant when it comes to song writing. We learn his inspiration for the songs that would go on to become a part of American culture. Songs like “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Seeley captures his determination and innocence, contrasting with Dailey in their styles and the way their characters approached the band.
Nick Massi, played by Keith Hines, is the quiet one, though he tells us his story in the “Fall” segment of the musical. It’s appropriate that it is “fall” and not “autumn,” for it is the season where things start to fall apart for the band and they’re never again together in the same way. Hines may not talk much, but when he does, it’s remarkable. He’s got a deep, resonating voice that captures attention and his body motions underline the sense of a controlled Frankenstein’s monster.
Finally in the fourth season, in winter, we hear the story from Frankie Valli’s point of view. Aaron De Jesus plays the part of the short singer with a unique voice that would grab the country and create #1 hit after hit. De Jesus makes his voice go through a range of characteristics. He starts out the musical being highly nasal and untrained. By the end, his voice commands the entire theater and mesmerizes and thrills everyone in the audience.
“Jersey Boys” works as a musical because it is the story of the singers and every song fits the story of how that song came to be. At several points, the lyrics even match what is going on in the lives of the Four Seasons singers. Nearly every song is one that is straight out of the pop culture song book, songs people recognize.
It’s also a show that is highly produced with attention to detail. The main set never changes—construction beams that scream of the blue-collar background these guys have. Stairs go up either side and people cross the top beam in increasingly symbolic manners. Behind that is a projection screen that moves up and down as different backgrounds are needed for different scenes. And furniture such as tables, bars, drum sets and beds, move in and out with a speed that flows from scene to scene and never interrupts. Scenic Designer Klara Zieglerova makes sure everything works to keep this show on the move.
Costume Designer Jess Goldstein is also constantly busy with costumes that change with almost every scene. The singers change in and out of fancy tuxes for each performance and the chorus is also constantly making changes into costumes that tell the story of where the Four Seasons are at any given time.
As a story, “Jersey Boys” moves from the highs to the lows. It’s a story of struggle, of success, of failures, of heartbreak and of loss. It’s a story of music and the people who make the music. It’s a story of rags to riches, but it is also a story of anyone who came from a rough background and struggled to make good.