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"Jersey Boys," show #889

Jersey Boys is not a show one approaches lightly, even with it being a jukebox musical. What elevates a jukebox musical is ensuring the scenes are not just filling between songs; Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book string the music by Bob Guadio and lyrics by Bob Crewe seamlessly in a well-structured musical that presents the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons marvelously. All the hits are present, serving as the muscles of the show, but the bones of the show is the script which makes audiences fall right into the story of how these four boys from New Jersey sang their way to stardom and the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. Selma Arts Center holds the honor of gifting the Central Valley with the regional premiere of this musical, and it’s simply a terrific production that hits the notes as well as Valli’s famous falsetto has for decades. 


(L to R: Sean Hopper (Bob Gaudio), Tristan Beck (Nick Massi), Adrian Ammsso (Frankie Valli), Jonathan Wheeler (Tommy DeVito); flanked by cast of Jersey Boys; Photo source: Selma Arts Center)


The role of Valli is shared between Adrian Ammsso and Thomas Hayes. I had the pleasure of seeing Ammsso, who shows an ease as the front man of the group, which is a credit to his natural talent and vocal calisthenics. The role of Frankie Valli is a difficult hill to climb, but Ammsso gives honor to the iconic falsetto with his own timbre while giving a fully-realized acting performance. The role seems to fit Ammsso like a glove, which is in sync with his supporting trio. Jonathan Wheeler’s turn at Tommy DeVito makes the bully of the group–the leader who gets the job done at any cost–a compelling anti-hero you easily root for. Wheeler’s numerous narrations in the first act establish him as a powerhouse force within the Four Seasons and are handled with alluring bravado. Wheeler’s physicality, Jersey-influenced inflection, and harmonies suit the score beautifully. Tristan Beck serves as an appropriately gruff Nick Massi, the bass of the group. Though given only a few audience asides, Beck’s long-game taking of the stage delivery makes him an easy role to be engaged with, and then learn from, as we get the most-reliable narrator’s point-of-view on the group’s rise, and demise, through his monologues. Sean Hopper, as Bob Gaudio has, what I consider, the next-hardest mountain to traverse after Frankie; he must be instantly charming, vocally gifted, and ultimately loveable as his business-first mentality could otherwise villainize him. Hopper, I am happy to report, nails the role with a finesse of charm and pitch-perfect singing that makes the audience lean forward every time he is on stage. It starts in “Cry For Me,” which, as Frankie references in his ending monologue, is the first time The Four Seasons makes that sound. The group we know today truly starts and ends with Gaudio’s writing and musical gifts in showcasing Valli, and Hopper is perfectly cast as this lynchpin fourth member of the quartet. 


(L to R: Avalon Lone (pictured as Joey), Tristan Beck (Nick Massi), Sean Hopper (Bob Gaudio), Jonathan Wheeler (Tommy DeVito), Adrian Ammsso (Frankie Valli); Photo source: Selma Arts Center)


What makes this Jersey Boys premiere go beyond just a fun treat for Central Valley audiences is that every featured and supporting role is cast with strong actor-singers. Avalon Lone’s turn as Joey and others (the Joey is for Joe Pesci; yes, that Joe Pesci) is hilarious and earnest; Joseph Hill’s Bob Crewe is appropriately flamboyant and supportive while still being a hard-nosed producer who has the gatekeeping ear for finding the right sound. Zanna Wyant delivers a powerful turn as Mary Delgado, Valli’s first wife. Her delivery of their initial flirtations to the hard-hitting reality check of Frankie being a successfully absent father make the dialogue bits between her and Ammsso a superb grouping of compelling scene work. Noah Villaverde and Mallory Parker have splendid vocal standout moments throughout the production, including in “Oh, What a Night,” which has a three-time turn in the show from a well-choreographed “Ces Soirees-La,” to the number proper, and then in the “Jersey Bows.” Brandon Cleveland is an imposing Gyp DeCarlo, but shows the necessary soft side in several welcome comedic moments.


(Zanna Wyant (Mary and others); Photo source: Selma Arts Center)


Technically and artistically, this production is everything you’d expect, starting with Terry Lewis’s stellar vocal direction. You don’t have an enjoyable Jersey Boys if the vocals are less than excellent, and Lewis’s direction ensures audiences enjoy every vocal turn, whether solo, quartet, or company. Dan Aldape’s lighting seamlessly transitions from theatrically intimate to concert-like vibrant, and Scott Chapman’s scenic design is in-sync with Ben Sells’ stage direction. Chapman's expansive set encapsulates the multi-locale book with Sells’ complementary, well-paced direction. Savannah West and Morgan Blackburn’s choreography is fun while taking some liberties from period-appropriate moves, but is executed quite well by the cast as a whole.


(Joseph Hill (Bob Crewe) and Sean Hopper (Bob Gaudio); Photo source: Selma Arts Center)


With Selma Arts Center already experiencing packed houses and sell outs, it’s my suggestion that you book your ticket immediately, if you haven’t already, to their Jersey Boys. The attraction of a musical like Jersey Boys is that, while you can’t see the actual Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons tour anymore, you can see this show. It’s the closest to having the experience you’d want from a concert, but with the added bonus of experiencing the story which makes the music sing with a passion you wouldn’t otherwise get. Go see this show!

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