Photo courtesy of JERSEY BOYS on Broadway
From rags to riches and back to rags again, the off-Broadway production of “Jersey Boys” hit the stage at the William Saroyan Theatre showcasing the legacy of four singers from New Jersey that captivated listeners for decades.
“Jersey Boys” follows the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, an American pop and rock band, in its tumultuous journey toward success atop Billboard Charts and across the nation with the unique and iconic voice of Valli.
From their humble beginnings to the group’s international stardom throughout the 1960s, the musical is organized into a narration by the four leading figures of the Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio.
The production often showcases the conflicting personalities from the rowdy band mates whose history is both relished and abhorred—there’s plenty of language within the production that hearkens back to the boys’ not-so-innocent roots.
Fresno State theater arts major Daniel Vaughn wasn’t sure what to expect from the show, growing up a few generations after the Four Seasons’ era, but said that he was still excited to see the performance.
“The singing was spot on, and the four members of the group sounded identical to the original Four Seasons,” Vaughn said.
Showcasing the rock-and-roll lifestyles of boys with a past, “Jersey Boys” was a memorable performance. The stunning visual cues from the neon signs of the ‘50s and ‘60s projected from an enlarged LCD screen created a constantly fluctuating visual setting that met the demands of an ever-changing locale as the boys tour across America.
Indeed, where the plotline lacks definition, it is highlighted instead with engaging images. Real video from the original American Bandstand performance was used synonymously with the motions of the actors on stage, as are visually creative comedic bits for some of the group’s biggest hits, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Oh What a Night.”
The origins of the group were also shown through the use of projected images like the “Four Seasons” flashing neon sign of a bowling alley that the boys take, quite literally, as a sign from the heavens.
Whether growing up knowing the work of the Four Seasons or seeing the show for the first time, Vaughn said either way the audience had something to take away from that night.
“I think that biographical shows are good for all age groups,” Vaughn said. “For those who grew up in the time period, they would enjoy the show by reminiscing about their original memories of the group, and for the younger generation they get to learn about the famous rock-and-roll group.”
The production also touched on lesser-known aspects of the Four Seasons’ lives, including the death of Valli’s daughter Francine in 1980 and the criminal history that was often associated with New Jersey life, portraying the inspiration, both comedic and emotional, behind their music.
Three out of the four members – DeVito, Massi and Valli — had all done jail time in their earlier years, and were able to wrangle the softer-spoken outsider Gaudio into their hijinks. In a comedic scene, Guadio joins the rest of the boys by running out on a hotel bill: thereafter, the boys are left sitting alone singing on prison toilets as they await a judge’s sentence.
The heart of the production, lies at the core relationships each member established with one another, focusing on the building blocks of solidarity by growing up together facing city life and urban poverty. The only way to escape from the cycle was through their talent and through their trust in one another: What ultimately brought them together at the onset of the production also tore the boys apart decades later.
Vaughn’s favorite part of “Jersey Boys,” he said lies in the reason behind it all.
“The singing was my favorite part,” Vaughn said. “I even caught myself singing some of the songs after the show.”
Regarded as one of the most successful pop and rock groups of their time, the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. Frankie Valli, the leader of the group, still performs at the age of 80 and made his Broadway debut in 2012 at the Broadway Theatre in New York.
In 2006, “Jersey Boys” won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a Grammy award the same year. A film adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood was released in June of this year.
Other productions throughout the season set to debut at the Saroyan Theatre include Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “Guys and Dolls” and, for the first time in Fresno, “The Book of Mormon.”