'Jersey Boys' The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Now onstage at Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque
This ‘Jersey Boys’ refreshingly looks at the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons with less New York glitz and glitter. Don’t need all that to tell a hell of a good story.
This is the third time I’ve seen ‘Jersey Boys’. What’s that old saying – three times a charm?
Well, Thousand Islands Playhouse Director & Choreographer Julie Tomaino and Music Director David Terriault have staged a terrific show that is not only charming but also downright entertaining. Plus, they’ve added a personal touch which I’ll speak about shortly.
‘Jersey Boys’ is the story of how blue-collar workers from the wrong side of town became one of the pop music sensations in America of all time. These guys wrote their own songs, invented their own sound, and sold gazillions of records pretty much before they were thirty. What made me appreciate seeing ‘Jersey Boys’ this time round was the comment made by Tommy DeVito at the top of the show: “You ask four guys how it all happened, you get four different versions.”
And with these four different versions (like the four seasons we experience in our lives each year), we never know fully what to expect. But that’s the anticipatory excitement of re-visiting a story we think we know because there might just be something different.
Tomaino and Terriault gave me a wonderful surprise with their unique staging that is different from the other two productions I saw directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. Don’t need to spend big bucks to do something different.
The first time I saw the show was the sit-down Toronto DANCAP production over ten years ago and was blown away by its scope and breadth. It had the New York glittery feel to it in the musical numbers and ‘twas marvellous to watch and to hear as the spark was ignited immediately to set the plot in motion.
The Canadian tour at the Ed Mirvish Theatre a few years later lacked that spark. What I remember about that production was the cavernous stage and the set which was so far upstage that I was unable to feel that spark in connection to the story. I really had to work at it.
This 1000 Islands Playhouse production beautifully strips away that glitz. It’s not needed here as the immediacy of the Springer stage drew me right into the heart of the action. Instead under Tomaino’s subtle nuanced direction and terrific choreography, and Terriault’s superfine musical direction, the focus shifts to the four ardently told stories of what happened to these guys.
And I wanted to hear and to see what they had to say to each other and to us in the breaking of the fourth wall (or the Rashomon Effect as discussed in the programme).
Brian Dudkiewicz’s split-level set design amply fills the Springer stage without ever appearing or feeling cramped. The awesome-sounding band members play just off-centre stages to right and left of the centre stage entrance and exit. Brandon Kleiman’s costume designs are a fitting re-creation of the era. Kudos to Sound Designer Steve Marsh as the sound balance between the band and the actors worked beautifully from where I sat. Jareth Li’s sharply focused lighting design helped to underscore those heightened dramatic moments. A highlight of this occurred in the second act where Tommy DeVito is forced to come clean about his financial woes and what they have done to the group.
The cast remains uniformly real in their individual characterizations and delivers primo performances. Niko Combitsis is a boyishly charming and angelic Frankie Valli who dutifully and believably matures throughout the story when he must deal with so much heartache in his divorce from wife Mary Delgado (a tough-as-nails Kaleigh Gorka) and the fallout from there. My heart broke for Frankie and Mary in two places – first when they sang ‘My Eyes Adored You’ to each other after another fight when he returns home from a tour. He’s on the stage looking up at her while she is on the second level looking down at him. The second occurs in seeing the deterioration of the relationship between Frankie and his daughter, Francine (nice work from Zoe O’Connor), and I could just sense something horrible is going to occur. If you’ve seen the musical or know the story, the worst does occur.
To open the story, Kale Penny’s rough-around-the-edges Tommy DeVito wants only what’s best for the group. Penny, however, goes just that one step further that makes his DeVito memorable. Underneath that gruff exterior lies a truly sad man who really didn’t know how to appreciate the gift that was given to them all. Trevor Patt is a strapping Bob Gaudio who truly understood the value of the contract handshake, and the symbiotic connection between him and Combitsis remained indelibly strong.
Tyler Check’s Nick Massi is the relatively quiet one of the group who sometimes just sits back and observes what’s playing out in front of him. But there’s that adage: ‘Still waters run deep’. When Check’s Massi finally does reveal his internal narration, his acute anger and palpable frustration were also felt deep within my very being. When Nick says he’s had enough and wants to go home, Check heartfully convinced me and I didn’t blame him at all for his decision to leave.
There are some standout supporting performances too. Stewart Adam McKensy is a slick and savvy ‘of a different nature’ Bob Crewe. As Frankie’s reporter girlfriend Lorraine, Maya Lacey nicely reinforces how Franki must continually deal with the separation of the performer versus the private man.
Another of the highlights of this production is the ‘mini-concert’ at the end. The audience has witnessed that life as a performing artist is not all sunshine and autographs as I was once told. However, when this entire sensational company returns for this ‘mini-concert’, the roof is blown off the Springer auditorium. That sheer enjoyment of song and dance emanated from the stage right into my heart. Looking around at everyone else, it appeared the same happened to them.
Final Comments: Great storytelling told by a likeable and knockout ensemble of players who deliver dynamite performances.
Get to see this ‘Jersey Boys’ before it closes.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.
‘Jersey Boys’ runs to October 30 in the Springer Theatre of the 1000 Islands Playhouse, 185 South Street, Gananoque. For tickets, call 613-382-7020 or visit www.1000islandsplayhouse.com.
JERSEY BOYS The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
Produced by Thousand Islands Playhouse
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio and Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Director and Choreographer: Julie Tomaino
Music Director: David Terriault
Set Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz
Costume Designer: Brandon Kleiman
Lighting Designer: Jareth Li
Sound Designer: Steve Marsh
Stage Manager: Rebecca Eamon Campbell
Performers: Tyler Check, Niko Combitsis, Caleb Di Pomponio, Kaleigh Gorka, Maya Lacey, Stewart Adam McKensy, Zoe O’Connor, Trevor Patt, Kale Penny, Robbie Towns, Daniel Williston.