The music of the Four Seasons wasn't made for uptown girls or flowery Anglophiles dreaming of British Invasions. As the musical "Jersey Boys" proudly declares from its metallic, industrially themed stage, the flawed, straight-from-the-'hood Seasons forged an all-hit jukebox for the working-class guys who fixed cars and for their cute-but-weary girlfriends who waited tables or carted cocktails even as hopes of better fluttered briefly in their hearts.
They may suffer from condescension and stereotyping, but those are the kind of fans who don't quickly forget the soundtrack of their formative years. And when this terrific musical -- the biographical story of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi's rise from Newark, N.J., to a longtime perch at the top of the charts -- opened on Broadway in 2005, they poured through bridges and tunnels and lifted this show out of the much-maligned critical ghetto of the jukebox musical and out onto a high, safe plane of mutual validation.No nattering, neck-tied Manhattan opinion-maker could have stopped them. Not that they dared to try.
This one gets the key things right. It doesn't mess with the sound -- such Gaudio-penned Seasons hits as "Sherry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Rag Doll" are delivered with arrangements that precisely mirror the original recordings. It doesn't shy away from narrative grit -- mobsters, hookers, other examples of the Jersey flora and fauna. After all, nobody wants to hear the sweet-smelling story of a band from the suburbs. It weaves that familiar struggle-boom-bust-maturity narrative overly familiar from a thousand trips behind the music into a story that somehow taps into the universals of every flawed, ordinary life.
Yet, most important of all, this show is also staged with an innate sense of the exhilaration of being a pre-digital kid following your favorite group. McAnuff's staging isn't subtle. But it brilliantly revs up scenes set in recording studios and venues into a thrilling sequence of cathartic triumphs and heartbreaks. On Sunday night's opening in Chicago, the audience was on its feet at least three times, including once before intermission. It was no put-up job. I watched precisely the same thing happen in New York.
Actually, Chicago has a whole lot in common with Jersey -- an insecure, second-city machismo; a healthy disdain for artistic pretension; a general preference for music that delivers an actual melodic hook; and a demonstrable willingness to spend the big bucks and dress to the nines for a big night out on the town, if there is a guarantee that the evening will deliver as advertised. No wonder the Four Seasons always sold more records here than anyplace else outside their home turf.
Well, consider this that guarantee. "Jersey Boys," which has landed at the LaSalle Bank Theatre for an extended run that should last a year or more, surely delivers that adult night out. Nothing pretentious or politically correct will keep you from the music and the story.
The show is a close replica of the one in New York, and any differences really are only of great importance if you have seen it before. Either way, you'll enjoy Jeremy Kushnier's superb performance as DeVito, the bad boy of the band. All the requisite edge is there -- but so is great charm and subtlety. He's the best I have seen in this part. Drew Gehling, who looks uncommonly like the real Gaudio, is a very decent actor. And the likable Michael Ingersoll makes for a more neurotic, less mellow Massi, which is probably closer to the real thing.
Which leaves us with the star of the show. Jarrod Spector most certainly has that famous multi-octave range -- technically, his performance will blow away people who know Valli's singing. As the youthful Valli, you'll surely buy his passion and his dreams. And you'll see the toughness. But he is and plays young. So what you won't see is all the pain -- and the compromises that come with maturity. Spector takes the throbbing climax of this remarkably exciting show a long way, but not as far it can go.
But in all honesty, I doubt you'll notice. This is a show that walks like a hit, acts like the big man in town and deserves to stay. People here will understand where these guys were coming from.
When: Open Run
Where: LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Tickets: $30-$95 at 312-902-1400
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