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Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

L to R) Michael Ingersoll as Nick Massi Christopher Kale Jones as Frankie Valli Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio Deven May as Tommy DeVito
One of the special pleasures in welcoming Jersey Boys to the Ahmanson is the return of its director Des McAnuff, for 25 years director of La Jolla Playhouse. A quarter of a century of ground-breaking theater makes him a native son in the theatrical sense and his transition to co-Artistic Director designate of Canada's Stratford Festival seals his amazing range from the classics to such Broadway musicals as The Who's Tommy, for which he won the Tony. Shakespeare, also an artist of many colors, would be proud.

What McAnuff brings to this saga of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is a rare combination of dramatic flair with intuitive sensitivity to character and the ways in which people confront, control and are vulnerable to each other. Sergio Trujillo's crisp hot choreography interprets McAnuff's vision while remaining true to the Four Seasons' period moves.

As a long-time fan of the group, McAnuff was also instrumental in shaping the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice who make every word count as soundly as every musical note in the score. It's a brilliant piece of work— a real play that finds the grit, humor and determination in this saga of four street kids who made good, told in their four different voices. Wisely, the song staging is mostly presentational, rather than integrational, although some, such as Bye Bye Baby are used to highlight events. The presentational staging makes the audience react as if they were at a concert, particularly noticeable in the second act when the book cleverly builds up suspense to the little song that almost got lost but which Gaudio managed to get played and became one of their biggest hits: Can't Take My Eyes Off You. It got a standing ovation, rarely seen in the middle of a performance.

This production, which has been called the most successful of the rock-group sagas, may credit some of its appeal to the diversity of its characters, beginning with the street kids who saw the group as a way out of the revolving door of jail time for petty theft that was their lifestyle and moving on to include gifted composer Bob Gaudio, and sophisticated producer Bob Crewe. The group's rise was not meteoric but involved years of slugging small-time gigs across country propelled by the ruthless ambition of Tommy DeVito. The spark plug of the group who recognized and nurtured Frankie's talent, DeVito's hedonistic spending was nearly their downfall. Frankie comes of age, spiritually, when he refuses further manipulations and determines to express the group's loyalty by paying Tommy's debts.

This production, as originally conceived by Des McAnuff, plays very well in the Ahmanson, whose excellent acoustics and stripped down set present it to its best advantage. The touring cast is headed by the clear falsetto of Christopher Kale Jones as Frankie and a magnetic Deven May as Tommy DeVito. An arresting dancer, May's Tommy is a rogue with authority until those same traits bring him down. Lanky Erich Bergen plays the brilliance and the naivity in Gaudio with focused empathy. Michael Ingersoll brings unforced sincerity to Nick Massi who walks away from it all.

All but Massi, who died in 2000, were present at the Ahmanson opening, sharing a well-deserved curtain call with the triumphant cast. The guy with long grey hair and a fascinating craigy face schmoozing with Kirk Douglas at intermission turned out to be the real Tommy DeVito and actor Joe Pesci, who knew them when and is depicted as a go-fer in the play as well as the success he later became, was also on stage for the call. This is Hollywood, Ladies and Gentlemen!

For a review of the Broadway Jersey Boys and a song list go here
Book: Marshall Brickman & Rick Ellice Music: Bob Gaudio
Lyrics: Bob Crewe
Director: Des McAnuff
Cast: John Altieri (Bob Crewe and others), Miles Aubrey (Nick DeVito, Stosh, Norman Waxman, Charlie Calello and others), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Sandra DeNise (Church Lady, Angel, Lorraine and others), Eric Guaman (Stanley, Hank Majewski, Crewe's PA, Accountant, Joe Long and others), Michael Ingersoll (Nick Massi), Christopher Kale Jones (Frankie Valli), Nathan Klau (Detective Two, Billy Dixon and others), Brandon Mattheieus (French Rap Star, Detective One, Hal Miller, Barry Belson, Police Offier, Davis and others), Deven May (Tommy DeVito), Jackie Seiden (Mary Delgado, Angel and others), Courter Simmons (Joey, Recording Studio Engineer and others), Joseph Siravo (Gyp DeCarlo and others), Melissa Strom (Frankie's Mother, Nick's Date, Miss Frankie Nolan, Bob's Party Girl, Angel, Francine and others), Rick Faugno (Frankie Valli, Tuesday and Sunday evenings), Leo Huppert, Brian Silverman (Thugs)
Set Design: Klara Zieglerova
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Projection Design: Michael Clark
Wig and Hair Design: Charles LaPointe
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: May 25-August 31, 2007
Where: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, Reservations: (213) 972-4400.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on June 3.
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