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Review: Eyes (and ears) will adore `Jersey Boys'
June 28, 2011 - Andy Gray
This review ran in Sunday's paper but didn't get posted online, so I decided to post it here. The show definitely is worth checking out, even for those who didn't grow up with this music.
CLEVELAND -- "Jersey Boys" set box-office records the first time it came to PlayhouseSquare in 2008.
It returned Wednesday for a month-long run, and there are no signs of rust on this road show.
If anything, I enjoyed the show more the second time around.
The show certainly elevates the expectations for a jukebox musical. The first act never stops for a breath as it chronicles the Four Seasons' rise from New Jersey delinquents to one of the biggest American acts of the 1960s. Director Des McAnuff has the show bop from scene to scene and song to song, building intensity to the group's debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and Frankie Valli's soaring falsetto on "Sherry."
The musical is filled with wonderful little touches -- the Roy Lichtenstein-style graphics that both set the scene and comment on the action; the black-and-white television projections that recreate how many folks saw the group for the first time; the way the light bounces off of Valli's daughter's hoodie in the second act, giving her an ethereal glow -- that make it an impressive piece of theater and not just a nostalgic romp through the musical catalog of a quartet that sold millions of records decades ago.
Not that those songs should be diminished. "Walk Like a Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "My Eyes Adored You," "Rag Doll" and many of the 20-plus songs that fill the score are pristine examples of pop songcraft.
"Sherry" prompted the first of several long ovations Friday that forced the cast to pause for a few extra beats until the clapping subsided enough for the show to continue.
That first ovation was triggered by the nostalgic tug of the show, a performance that reminded the older Baby Boomers and senior citizens that dominated the crowd of the first time they heard Valli"s distinctive voice.
But by the second act, they weren't cheering Valli's legacy but the truly awe-inspiring performance of Joseph Leo Bwarie, who still is with the tour as Valli. He matches Valli at his vocal prime, probably exceeds his dance moves (I don't ever remember seeing Valli do James Brown-like splits) and handles the dramatics beats of the story with equal skill.
And there are plenty of dramatic moments. The Four Seasons' story has all the nasty infighting, egos, addictions and other problems familiar to "Behind the Music" fans along some mobsters and loan sharks to add an additional element of danger.
Bwarie stands out, but there isn't a weak link in the ensemble. The interplay among Bwarie, Quinn VanAntwerp (Bob Gaudio), Steve Gouveia (Nick Massi) and Matt Bailey (Tommy DeVito) feels natural, both the playful banter and the simmering animosity.
The rest of the cast outside of the main quartet plays multiple roles. Joseph Siravo switches from judge to mobster to priest and more over the course of two acts.
I haven't seen the show on Broadway, but it's hard to believe the production in New York is any more satisfying than the one that's here for the next few weeks.
"Jersey Boys" runs through July 17 at the State Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1515 Euclid Ave. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $35 to $130.
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"Jersey Boys" runs through July 17 at the State Theatre in Cleveland. (Photo by Joan Marcus)