Jersey Boys, a Tony Award-winning musical currently playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre about the rise and fall of ‘60s hitmakers Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, offers all that, plus a big bonus: Whether or not you lived during Valli’s heyday, you will know these songs. If you’re anything like me, every perfectly performed musical number — “Sherry,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Working My Way Back to You, Babe” — will trigger another thrill of recognition (they did that one, too?), and even a little verklempt-ness from time to time.
But you won’t know the unlikely story behind the songs, which unfolds onstage via the distinct voices of four narrator/band members, all of whom started out as blue-collar “Jersey boys,” for whom the projects, poverty and crime were realities of everyday life.
First up is Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytik), the band’s creator (at least according to him), also a gambler with Mob connections. In between stints in the slammer, he takes young Frances Castelluccio, a talented singer from a similarly Italian-American-Jersey hardscrabble background, under his wing, and puts together various lineups of a band that will eventually become The Four Seasons.
The band can’t get traction for a time, doing their singing/synchronized dancing act at various seedy lounges, but then the golden moment happens: They take on a teenage (!) singer-songwriter-keyboardist named Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus), who pens their first mega-hit (“Sherry”), smartly designed to show off the tremendous range of Valli’s voice. Hit after hit eventually follow: “Walk Like a Man,” “Candy,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Rag Doll.” And along with the hits — you guessed it — are the trials and tribulations that make an unlikely-hero story compelling: infighting, gambling debts, affairs, and a personal tragedy that affects Valli deeply.
As one would expect of an award-winning musical, the performances are phenomenal, starting with a powerhouse rendition of the band’s 1970s hit “Oh, What a Night” in French, a flash ahead to the Four Seasons’ eventual world renown — and ending with a show-stopping, glitzy version of “Who Loves You.” I surprised myself by equally loving the high-pitched doo-wop songs, more rocking numbers and ballads I once would have deemed cheesy — “My Eyes Adored You” has been in my head since watching Valli (Brad Weinstock) croon it on stage.
And whether or not you’re a fan of falsetto singing, you have to admire the skill it takes to reach those notes, both for Valli and Weinstock.
Take the kids?
Is this date night or family night? It depends on the kid and your budget, of course. The show is sensibly rated PG-13 for profanity and sexually explicit language (Jersey talk!). Drugs and sex make appearances, and the female characters are, not surprisingly, two-dimensional at best. In other words, stuff any media-savvy teen or tween would have been exposed to by now.
I went with a friend and her 13-year-old son, a seasoned community actor and musical theater buff who was both wowed by the show and the experience of being at the historic, Chinese-inspired elegance of the 5th Avenue (he even wore a suit jacket!). We all appreciated the innovative set design — including graphic novel-like images on a back screen that helped propel the story line — the many funny lines, and most of all, the high-energy singing and dancing. And of course, those songs.
You also might save on that extra ticket and enjoy a couples-only trip down nostalgia lane. Either way, this rollicking story of unlikely stars soars.
If you go ...
Where and when: Jersey Boys plays the 5th Avenue Theatre through May 4
Tickets: Buy online.
Parental guidelines: The show is rated PG-13; find more detail in the 5th Avenue’s parental guidelines.