Expectations always run high for the mega-musical touring shows that come through Calgary every year (especially if you’re paying upwards of $100 a ticket), and Dancap Productions’ Jersey Boys is no exception. Jersey Boys has lots of credentials behind it: it won the 2006 Tony Award® for Best Musical, the 2006 Grammy® Award for Best Musical Show Album and most recently, the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, it’s still running on Broadway, and it’s touring across the globe, including having just completed a successful two-year run in Toronto. From the spontaneous cheers and enthusiastic standing ovation delivered by the official opening night audience at the Jubilee on Saturday night I’d say most people left satisfied. I can’t say that I was one of them.
Jersey Boys is the story of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, The Four Seasons (Frankie Valli (played by Joseph Leo Bwarie), Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd), Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and how these four blue-collar kids from New Jersey worked their way up (with a little help from their friends in the mob) to become pop/rock music icons. The show is jam-packed with music, including all their hit songs like “Silhouettes”, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “My Eyes Adored You”, “Rag Doll,” “Oh What a Night,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “Who Loves You?” In between songs there are short vignettes where each character breaks the “fourth wall” and explains their trials and tribulations from his perspective.
The music (mostly by Bob Gaudio and producer/lyricist Bob Crewe) was great – if you like that sort of thing – and the musical performances outstanding. Bwarie captured Frankie Valli’s high-pitched falsetto brilliantly and was, of course, the big star of the show. If you love the music of the Four Seasons (by whatever name they were calling themselves at the time, and there have been a lot), that will probably be enough to carry the show for you.
As for the rest of it, I thought the story was thin and there wasn’t really enough character development for me to understand or care about any of the men, even in what were supposed to be the dramatic moments. As for the “Jersey girls,” they were all whores, shrews or both, and mostly just eye-candy. I’m sure there was a more interesting story here, but book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise chose not to tell it. At least they didn’t go overboard trying to link the songs to the plot, something that is commonly done in jukebox musicals like this (not my favourite genre in any event), and which can feel overly forced. I also found Klara Zieglerova’s austere catwalk set and Canadian-American director Des McAnuff’s use of it rather bland – which is surprising, considering they, along with choreographer Canadian Sergio Trujillo, also led the creative team that launched the original California and Broadway productions.
I had a chance to see the Broadway production a few Decembers ago when my mother-in-law, who used to run arts and culture tours from Ottawa to New York, invited me to come along. Jersey Boys was their pick for the optional night out. I chose to wait in line to get stand-by tickets for Wicked instead. Even though my travelling companions all raved about Jersey Boys afterwards, I’m now more than satisfied that I made the better choice. In fact, I think I might even add Jersey Boys to my little list of shows that would not be missed, which includes Cats and many other big shows that lots of people like. It doesn’t mean you won’t like it, just that it didn’t do much for me. This is one of those musicals that I’d put in the category of: “if you’re inclined to go, go, and if you’re inclined not to go, don’t go.” Alternatively, you can wait for the film version that is apparently in the works and then decide if you want to shell out the big bucks to see it on stage next time it comes to a city near you.
The highlight of the evening for me was the “surprise” appearance by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (no, he didn’t sing) and the white hat ceremony for the Jersey Boys cast, topped off with their singing of the Calgary 2012 Cultural Capital of Canada theme song, “Sweet City Woman”. Oh, and after going to see The Marvelous Wonderettes at Stage West (it must be 50’s/60’s month on the Calgary theatre scene), I got a second chance in the space of a couple of weeks to wear one of my new crinoline-dresses, and hang out with other theatre-loving friends from the Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group, which is never a bad thing.
Jersey Boys, presented by Dancap Productions runs until July 15 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium For tickets call 1-855-985-ARTS (2787) or go to www.DancapTickets.com. Bear in mind that if you attend the less expensive Tuesday evening, Wednesday matinée or Sunday evening performances, you’ll be seeing Nick Cosgrove in the role of Frankie Valli, instead of Joseph Leo Bwarie.