In what I am sure will be a short-lived departure from my normal bitching, moaning, whining, and kvetching, I would like to tell you about my great day. Today we saw “Jersey Boys” on Broadway. I posted previously on the genesis of this family outing. It was great. With a capital G. I loved it. Every second of it. It’s what Broadway shows are meant to be, but very often are not. I’m no theater critic, but I’ve seen a lot of shows. I’m a seasoned theatergoer.
“Jersey Boys” isn’t some bullshit show thrown together to display the songs of a certain group (“Mama Mia”) or of a particular artist (“Moving’ Out”). Thankfully it is not an overproduced Disney retread, which are far too numerous to mention, though “Mary Poppins” comes to mind; possibly because my daughter and I actually left this interminable piece of junk after intermission. Nor is it yet another inferior-to-the-original-so-don’t-waste-your-time revival (“Evita”).
Unlike “Rock of Ages”, which creates situations to showcase 80’s hair band music, “Jersey Boys” actually uses the music to TELL the story. The story is not propelled by the music in an artificial manner; it is integral to the story itself. You might be thinking, “Well, duh! It’s a musical about music. Of course the music is integral!” Agreed. Very often musicals can feel forced. In “Jersey Boys” there is a symbiosis between the music and the rest of the action that is organic. It’s a story about the music where the music is almost secondary. Almost.
It is funny, poignant, sad, and uplifting. Each of the main characters has his own personality, his own history. Obviously telling the story of “The Four Seasons” without music would have certainly been ill-advised, but it could have been done. That’s how compelling the storytelling is and why the music is both an enhancement and the centerpiece of the production at the same time. This synthesis is difficult to achieve.
The only other shows I have ever seen that I feel could be characterized in this way are “Rent” and “Wicked”; and they are based on other things. “Wicked” is adapted from a book, “Rent” is an updated version of the opera , “La Boheme”. “Jersey Boys” tells a story about real people and real events and strikes a perfect balance between the music and the story. How “Jersey Boys” manages this feat is nothing short of miraculous. Truly.
Musical performances of the caliber exhibited by the folks in “Jersey Boys” are also, in my experience, rare. This show calls for the actors to be both exceptional singers and talented thespians, which they are. Every one of them. There is a rhythm to the dialogue, both the dramatic and the comedic, that rivals the rhythm of the music, which is saying something. Because the music is spectacular.
Just like any self-respecting Jersey girl knows that Sinatra and Springsteen are from New Jersey, I know that “The Four Seasons” (well, at least three of them) are also from New Jersey. Belleville, New Jersey to be exact, which is two towns away from where I grew up. There was a place we used to go in Belleville that had THE best lemon ice. The lemon ice place is long gone, but my sister isn’t. She lives in Belleville now. My niece and nephew, like Frankie Valli, graduated from Belleville High School. I even had a brush with Frankie Valli myself. I worked as a waitress at one of his weddings. But I was never what you would call a fan.
“Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons” are a whole generation older than me. And the whole doo-wop thing? Not my kind of music. The only hit song Frankie Valli had during my youth was “Oh, What a Night”, which I loved. But that song wasn’t like the old “Four Seasons” stuff that my parents listened to. So, I liked one song, which wasn’t really enough incentive to see the show (nor were the numerous Tony Awards— I’ve been fooled by that before). Certainly if the whole show was made up of versions of that song I would have heard about it. Maybe I would have gone just to see how they’d pull that off. It isn’t and I didn’t, but that song actually “bookends” the show in a very clever way. I don’t know, but I think I may have resisted seeing the show for so long because, well, I figured it was just going to be a couple of hours of music that I couldn’t get worked up over, so why bother?
It’s been on Broadway for seven years. I have seen countless other shows since 2005, but not this one. I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details of some of the shows I’ve seen, the “Mary Poppins” experience is hard enough to revisit. Suffice it to say that I’m kicking myself now, but I’m happy I finally bothered. It was a couple of hours of music, but I did manage to get worked up over it. I will admit to dancing in my seat. As it turns out I can still be surprised by something. Pleasantly. Who knew?