“Oh What A Night”
Arizona Enjoys The Jersey Boys
The city of Tempe, Arizona exploded as Jersey Boys opened at the Gammage Auditorium. Not a seat was vacant in the bustling theater as the audience prepared to see the Broadway acclaimed show. Having grown up listening to the music, my sister and I were two amongst many who would soon be fighting a gnawing urge to sing along with the award worthy actors upon the brightly lit stage. Surrounded by a handful of middle-aged viewers, it seemed as if we were the youngest people in the audience. However, it wasn't until the show started that we realized exactly how little age mattered to enjoy the spellbinding performance that was played out before us.
First debuting on November 6, 2005, Jersey Boys has astounded the nation with the portrayal of the journey of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Winning four Tony awards, including Best Musical (2006), it has definitely lived up to fan expectations. As we approach the second anniversary of the premier performance, it should be noted that this is one of those often rare occasions in which the original would not come out as an obvious leader. Never before have I seen a tour cast that has put so much heart and soul into a performance, that I felt as if I were witnessing the actual story as it played forth.
As Christopher Kale Jones stepped out onto the stage, microphone gripped in his hand, not a sound erupted from the audience members. Listening intently as he began to sing "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," I forced myself to refrain from blinking, fearful that I would miss one second of his performance as Frankie Valli. There have been few times in which I have heard such a flawless falsetto, and this was without a doubt one of those not-so frequent occasions. I can't imagine how anyone would want to take their eyes off of this actor, as his performance was beyond my wildest dreams. Not to mention that his charming appearance had all of the women swooning. As his voice filled the auditorium, my heart pounded inside my chest, beating in unison with the drums. All thoughts of hearing a 'nail on chalkboard' type of voice had been thrown out the moment he opened his mouth. Jones truly put out a noteworthy display, one that will not easily be forgotten.
Out of all of the productions I have seen, there has never been an actor who has managed to put forth such an entertaining performance, as Deven May, -"my hand to God." As the wisecracking, self-proclaimed leader of the group, May never flinched in his role as Tommy DeVito. My undivided attention went out to him, as he truly gave it his all, every step of the way. If there was a Tony Award for Best Feature Acting in a National Tour Production, it would be awarded to this spectacular actor, without a shadow of a doubt. Not only did he portray the character ideally, but he did so in a light different than some of the other actors have. Rather than making Tommy DeVito an easy man to hate, May allowed us to feel a sense of pity towards him. Having met him at the stage door, the impression I got from him was quite unexpected. Rather than flaunting his fame, he acted in a rather nonchalant way, eager to converse about both the performance and my take on it. Multiple times I felt the need to pinch myself as I half expected to wake up from the fantasy of meeting such a talented and equally humble man.
It takes an unbelievably gifted entertainer to be able to stand on stage with three other actors, and manage to keep a straight face during some of the most humorous scenes in the production. And yet it appeared as if Erich Bergen managed to do so effortlessly. Painting a vivid picture of how the seemingly out of place Bob Gaudio would have reacted in both his mannerisms and expressions, it was obvious that he had put a great deal of work into perfecting his performance. And of course, he did not disappoint viewers. Holding the role of the one hit wonder, leaving high school to tour with his chart blowing song, "Short Shorts," Bergen holds his own, even against some of the more aggressive roles. As naive as he at first appears to be, the character evolves into a highly confident song writer/producer as time goes on. Bergen truly shows this in his acting, and it is nearly impossible for audience members not to fall in love with the character he allows us to take a glimpse of.
As with every performance, there was a certain character that seemed to be over looked by those staring towards the stage. It's quite regrettable that in this circumstance, that character happens to be Nick Massi, played by the extraordinarily talented Steve Gouveia. First seeing "Nicky" performing with the DeVito brothers, his musical ear is used to the advantage of helping Frankie Valli improve vocally. As a member of the audience, it was literally impossible to keep composure as Gouveia went off on his well known 'towel rant.' The self noted 'Ringo' of the group provides the audience with enough laughter to last the night. Constantly voicing his thought to form his own group, it seemed as if even during some of the more heart wrenching moments, we were fighting back tears of laughter. People think that the script writers are to thank for this, and yet it is sometimes overlooked, that actors are also responsible for the humor. Someone else wouldn't have had us chuckling the way that Gouveia did, as he put in his own special touch which truly made it unique.
We begin with 'The Variety Trio' of Tommy and Nick DeVito, along with Nick Massi. Their 'brass ring' turns out to be the sixteen year old Frankie Valli. While Tommy and Nick Massi are going through the 'revolving door' of Rahway Correctional Facility, the young Valli continues to improve. However, it takes a bit longer for them to make it even out into the musical world than they would have liked. Making the mistake of hiring a rather interesting character who proves to be less than talented in the song writing area, it seems as if their career has come to a permanent halt. Returning back to New Jersey from their short lived tour, a 'friend' by the name of Joe Pesci introduced them to Bob Gaudio, the writer of the hit "Short Shorts." The world had fallen in love with the song, and with Gaudio at their side, it was almost guaranteed that they would make it. But once again, things didn't go exactly as planned. Now working with music producer Bob Crewe, it wasn't until "Sherry" was written that things seemed to turn around. It all began in Belleville, New Jersey with four blue collar boys who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks made themselves a name, even when the rest of the world thought they couldn't.
With scene stealers such as John Altieri, who played Bob Crewe, and Courter Simmons, the constantly pushed around Joe Pesci, it's hard not to become absorbed in the action upon the stage. In fact, it's hard to even imagine pulling our attention away, even as the curtains come to a close. Falling in love with this particular production, I was determined to see it again. Just as with the first time, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation as the actors came out onto the stage once again. Clapping my hands together with the others, I, along with a good deal of those surrounding myself, didn't hesitate to join in on one last verse of "Oh What a Night!" This was a musical of laughter, love, and most of all, life. I will admit full heartedly that tears rolled down my cheeks as Christopher Kale Jones sat down to sing "Fallen Angel," or that I was fighting back the urge to join in with the dance routine for "Walk Like a Man." Brushing aside the 'Jersey Slang,' this was a performance that I can will all assurance say will continue to play across the nation. Christopher Kale Jones, Deven May, Erich Bergen, and Steve Gouveia did something that not every actor can. Together, they complemented each other, bringing a performance to the people. A performance that will live on in our hearts as long as the music continues to play.
Writer's Note: I first saw Jersey Boys on September 27, 2007. When I returned to see it again on October 14, 2007, Deven May had left on vacation, and his understudy, Eric Bates had taken up the role for the time being.
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