Jersey Boys' talented cast performs at the Straz Center until April 17.
I don’t very often make a journey out of town to see theater during the busy season (so much to see right here in Sarasota, you know). But occasionally a show comes along that hasn’t yet made it here--and may or may not for the foreseeable future--and a trip across the Sunshine Skyway is in order.
That’s the case with the hit musical Jersey Boys, now playing through April 17 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. While the show bowed in New York and London several years ago and has played at the Straz before, I’d never made the time to see it. Perhaps this time around I was inspired to see this retelling of how Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons came to be after seeing the real Frankie perform onstage last year.
Naturally, the touring production has a slick, fast-moving pace and lots of great songs from the 1960s, some that were performed originally by the Four Seasons and some by other groups of the period. It’s also got talented performers in both the major roles and supporting turns. But best of all, it’s got really interesting storytelling; even if you thought you knew the history of the pop music group before, you get a fresh perspective on it here.
That’s because the writers (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) made two wise choices: to give each member of the original quartet a chance to tell his version of the tale (through the gimmick of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter), and to make many of the songs directly relate to the genesis of the group or events happening in their personal lives. A lot of shows try to do the latter, but it doesn’t always work. Here, it’s very effective, as when Frankie (Joseph Leo Bwarie) sings a heartfelt My Eyes Adored You after breaking up with his wife, or when his solo career takes off with the introduction of the song Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
But, as the show’s title implies, it’s not all Frankie, all the time. We get insight as well into tough guy Tommy DeVito (Matt Bailey), who thinks he should get the credit for the group’s success; latecomer Bob Gaudio (Quinn VanAntwerp), who likewise makes a convincing case that without his songs that success would never have come; and Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia), who, in Act II, confesses to being the Ringo of the group and decides to spend more time with his family. The toll of the music business on family members, as well as the guys themselves, is pretty clear, and, for a Broadway musical, told with some pretty brutal honesty.
But that hardly makes Jersey Boys any kind of downer. Whether you were around the first time songs like Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Bye Bye Baby and other memorable tunes were heard or caught up to them later on, there’s no denying their pop power. And there’s nothing quite like hearing them in the context of their times and the back story of the Four Seasons.
For tickets to Jersey Boys at the Straz, call (813) 229-7827 or go online at strazcenter.org.