‘Jersey Boys’ brings back memories

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A sign in the lobby of the National Theatre read, "Flashing, strobe lights, loud gunfire and authentic, profane Jersey vocabulary are special effects used in this production of Jersey Boys."

And they were right, the language was colorful, and yes, probably authentic Jersey, but excessive enough to keep young theatre-goers away, not to mention the glorification of crime with some marital infidelity thrown in.

That said, "Jersey Boys," the Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway hit musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was a good show.

You can't go wrong with the parade of hit songs, from "Oh What a Night," with the French lyric version kicking off the show, to "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "I'm in the Mood for Love." The first act was a bit of a parade with a fast-paced, chronological synopsis of their early days told through song that competed with chairs, tables and benches sliding on and off stage.

Still, you can't help having your favorite among the singers, be it Frankie (Aaron De Jesus), or the deep-voiced and slightly eccentric Nick Massi (Keith Hines), or the fast and loose Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey), or the stabilizing force of Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley).

De Jesus captures Valli's trusting spunk and does his falsetto voice justice. Hines draws laughter as Massi with his quiet nature, until he can't stay quiet for another minute. Dailey's De Vito leads us through the bulk of the group's back story with all the panache of a Jersey thug. And Seeley brings Gaudio and his many talents to the group as the songwriter and sensible businessman he was.

Sadly, many of the vocals, which should have boomed across the theater seats, were routinely overpowered by the musical accompaniment.

By the second act, the audience rallied for "Can't Take Me Eyes off You" and the rousing final song, "Who Loves You?"

The story line, from their start performing in bowling alleys, through name and member changes, costume iterations and the evolution of their stilted, yet simple choreography, to the significant financial woes caused by DeVito, is all captured in this narrative approach directed by Des McAnuff.

The versatile set, with an upper catwalk and side stairs, was framed with a large projection screen providing backdrops. At one point, the band faced the back of the stage - transformed into an auditorium with footlights and simulated camera flashes - to place the audience "onstage" with the singers.

"Jersey Boys" runs at the National Theatre through April 24.

Augherton can be reached at aaugherton@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016