Monday, November 7, 2005

Jersey Boys


By Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Dir. Des McAnuff. August Wilson Theater.

A jukebox musical that's actually worth the dime--who knew? In tones ranging from celebration to surrender, critics concede that this bio-musical about the rise and fall of the innocuous '60s pop quartet Four Seasons is a winner, at the box-office, at least. They single out its authentic local flavor and Des McAnuff's lively, savvy direction; they're more mixed about Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book, and there's a certain degree of condescending acknowledgement that the show's target audience will eat it up, flaws and all. NOTE: Most of them praise John Lloyd Young's lead turn as Frankie Valli; the show has since seen more turnover than Menudo.

New York Post A
(Clive Barnes) It's a Broadway commonplace that the most important thing about a musical is the book--but no one goes out singing the book, so it's a commonplace often forgotten. Then comes a show like Jersey Boys, with a book, by Broadway newcomers Marshall Brickman (Woody Allen's one-time co-writer) and Rick Elice, that's as tight and absorbing as an Arthur Miller play, whipped up by director Des McAnuff into a controlled rock frenzy. That's when you realize just what a book can do. A glitzy, sleight-of-hand staging never hurt, either...It's a show still dynamically alive in music while, as a drama, it catches the very texture, almost the actual smell, of its time.

The Daily News A
(Howard Kissel) I had a great time at Jersey Boys... Although a few scenes are dramatized, much of the time the characters speak directly to the audience. Sometimes such a technique can be deadly, but the book, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, handles everything with such lightness and finesse that you get caught up in their story. This is in no small part due to the skill of the cast under Des McAnuff's canny direction. The most impressive of the group is Christian Hoff as Tommy DeVito, who started it all.

Time Out NY A
(Adam Feldman) With Jersey Boys, the Broadway musical has finally done right by the jukebox, presenting the Four Seasons' infectiously energetic 1960s tunes as they were intended to be performed. True, the script adheres closely to the dramatic beats of a VH1 biopic: building bridges in the first act, delving into tunnels in the second. But under Des McAnuff's sleek direction, the result feels canny instead of canned. And Bob Gaudio's music, as sung by a dynamic cast and shaped by Steve Canyon Kennedy's exemplary audio design, sounds as good as it ever did (and sometimes—blasphemy!—even better).

The Journal News A-
(Jacques Le Sourd) One big thing this show has that others of the genre don't is a director, Des McAnuff, who puts a really stylish gloss on it...The other thing it has is John Lloyd Young, a singer with an astounding voice, who effortlessly imitates Valli's signature, a powerful falsetto...The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is a little long on narration, and you may find your eyes glazing over until the point, two-thirds of the way through the first act, when the boys break into television with an appearance on "American Bandstand." From that point on, though, you snap awake and happily ride the wave...It's the music that counts, and it's sheer joy.

The New York Times A-
(Ben Brantley) In a year in which one pop-songbook show after another has thudded and died, "Jersey Boys" passes as silver instead of as the chrome-plated jukebox that it is..."Jersey Boys" has the advantage of featuring singers that actually sound like the singers they are portraying and a technology-enhanced band that approximates the original sound of their music...While "Jersey Boys" is based on fact, it rarely leaps over the clichés of a regulation grit-to-glamour blueprint...Once the Four Seasons classics are rolled out, every other pair of shoulders in the house starts a-twitchin'.

Newsday B+
(Linda Winer) Why does "Jersey Boys" succeed - and it does, exuberantly - when most jukebox musicals have been a pain in the Broadway butt? For starters, the creators of the show about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons don't just love this blue-collar DNA-pop music from the '60s. Authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo obviously also understand why they love these dopey romantic lyrics with the simple song structures, the gorgeous harmonic blends and the immaculate yet easygoing doo-wop beat...Sure, this is clone theater, note-by-note coverage of songs that combine soapy, commercial sounds with the deep-leaning pulse of a pre-counter-cultural parallel universe in which pop groups wore suits and skinny ties and nobody discussed Vietnam. McAnuff keeps the show from feeling animatronic.

New York B+
(Jeremy McCarter) The show’s charm is primarily Des McAnuff’s doing. The director has no illusions about what drives this sort of show. Jersey Boys may aim only to be a shallow, big-budget, crowd-pleasing jukebox musical, but it’s a model of the genre. Admire first the deftness of the storytelling by librettists Marshall Brickman...and Rick Elice...Right to the end, the show threatens to collapse under Behind the Music clichés: fights over money, trouble with the missus. Yet aside from a treacly moment here or there, the script’s unique Jersey flavor makes it hard to resist.

Talkin' Broadway B+
(Matthew Murray) It's simply not possible to be angry at the frenetically kinetic and intermittently exciting show...In fact, there's even decent, non-guilty enjoyment on hand here, for the first time since Mamma Mia! ushered in the style of show with no real use for a book except to string together pop tunes...McAnuff is the first jukebox musical director to really realize that even audiences held captive by their pop-song preconceptions deserve a show every bit as lively as a completely original show with something to prove. His work here isn't edgy...but it is razor sharp, with McAnuff keeping a controlling grip on the fiercely frantic nature he allows the show.

Variety B
(David Rooney) Call it what you will--bio tuner, jukebox musical, songbook show--"Jersey Boys" is unlikely to erase the critical and industry skepticism toward the compilation genre...But this agreeably modest show has a number of appealing factors on its side. The underdog story of four blue-collar Italian boys from Jersey who become a chart-topping hit factory advocates all the right embraceable values for mainstream acceptance: family, friendship, loyalty and a grounded awareness of one's roots. It celebrates the rise to stardom while providing down-to-earth, bittersweet acknowledgement of its casualties. But most of all, it showcases an energizing concert of toe-tapping pop classics, with a quartet of vocally accomplished charmers faithfully reproducing the original Four Seasons sound.

The New Yorker B
(John Lahr) This is direct, pedal-to-the-metal stuff, without nuance, irony, or wit—the sound, as the show insists, of the working people. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice have written a clever book, which should become the template for this kind of musical excavation; it sets up the songs with well-judged humor and the elegant strokes of observation that the Four Seasons’ repertoire lacks...“Jersey Boys” knows exactly what it is: a money tree. The audience is tickled to death, but, given enough of these ersatz events, Broadway musical theatre may be, too.

Theatermania B
(David Finkle) So what if the Des McAnuff production is so slick that you could slip on it and slide to an untimely end? Fuhgeddaboudit! It's got the Four Seasons songs, an astonishing string of melodic and melodramatic celebrations of adolescent emotion that make this show a highly appealing oldies concert. It pushes its broad-shouldered way into the theater as a better example of the currently ubiquitous "jukebox musical" form...Despite its flaws, you can't beat this show with a stick.

USA Today B
(Elysa Gardner) Flawed but unexpectedly winning...Boys' real secret weapon is its stars. John Lloyd Young's sweetly guileless Valli does indeed sing like an angel, as another character notes. And he and the actors cast as his bandmates perform the Four Seasons' hits with more prowess and charisma than I've yet seen in a faux-rock musical. When these guys re-enact an Ed Sullivan TV spot, you understand why those girls in the audience screamed...I can hope that these performers will move on to roles that serve their talents and those of others in more unique, challenging and career-enhancing ways. But I'm not holding my breath.

Associated Press B
(Michael Kuchwara) When it sings and moves, this musical biography of pop icons Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons...really rocks...Only when it attempts to tell the story of the lads' rise to fame and fortune does Jersey Boys occasionally falter, sinking into a soapy resume of their lives.

Village Voice C
(Michael Feingold) Even at 13, I knew that what you piled up on the 45 spindle for sock hops wasn't the same as what you went to hear in the theater...We've seen it all before, and Des McAnuff's production, with most of its numbers delivered by the four stand-ins lined up downstage concertizing, doesn't make it seem any more exciting than the last 86 times around. The four good actors who play the roles are so non-Italian American-looking that they might as well be doing Forever Plaid...For those who crave a wallow in the nostalgia at the end of the tunnel, Jersey Boys does no harm; it's a painless, if low-octane, evening.

Wall Street Journal D
(Terry Teachout) Contrary to anything you’ve read elsewhere, it’s nothing more than 32 songs performed on a cheap-looking set by a high-priced lounge band, strung together like dimestore pearls on the most vapid of all-tell-no-show books...No doubt I’m the wrong person to review this show, seeing as how the hyped-up falsetto yelps of Mr. Valli (convincingly simulated here by John Lloyd Young) give me hi-yie-yives. All I can say is that it would be a lot simpler for everyone involved if they’d just move the whole thing to Newark.

New York Post A 13; The Daily News A 13; Time Out NY A 13; The Journal News A-
12; The New York Times A- 12; Newsday B+ 11; New York B+ 11; Talkin' Broadway B+ 11; Variety B 10; The New Yorker B 10; Theatermania B 10; USA Today B 10; Associated Press B 10; Village Voice C 7; Wall Street Journal D 4; TOTAL: 157 / 15 = 10.47 (B)

No comments: