I'd been promising Cindy that I'd take her in to see the Broadway in Chicago production of Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons brought out on stage and in song. During our late summer trip into Chicago, we took in a Sunday matinee at the Bank of America Theater.
I grew up in a house with older sisters who listened to the Four Seasons and to this day I still like listening to Frankie Valli's falsetto voice when it pops up on the radio. The soaring vocal harmonies brought forth by Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi complemented Valli's incredible range as a singer. This was the kind of music I was brought up on - long before the Beatles stepped to the forefront in early 1964.
The story of the Four Seasons is rather compelling - four young street guys growing up in the hard scrabble, blue collar existence of New Jersey in the 50's, coming together to become a major singing group churning out hit after hit. Jersey Boys intertwines stories of triumph and heartbreak, success and subsequent money problems, honor and betrayal. There's associations with organized crime figures, petty thieves and some jail time for some of the Four Seasons. But the core of the story revolves around the coming together and subsequent lifetime partnership of Valli and Gaudio - an legendary agreement cemented with a handshake.
Normally, Dominic Scaglione, Jr. (right) plays the lead role of Frankie Valli in the Chicago production of Jersey Boys. However, for some reason the role of Valli was played by Scaglione's understudy (and who plays Valli on Wednesday and Saturday matinees) John Michael Dias. It would have been nice to see Scaglione as reviews of the Chicago production were overly gushing toward his portrayal of Valli, but Dias did a wonderful job that afternoon. Dias' vocal range was very good, it didn't have that raspy quality you find in Valli's voice, but Dias' acquitted himself very well.
One of the more compelling performances in Jersey Boys was turned in by Michael Cunio who played the role of the street tough Tommy DeVito. It was DeVito who "discovered" Frankie Valli only after the two were brought together by another neighborhood kid, Joe Pesci. Yes, that Joe Pesci, the actor. In one of the many story lines that I never knew about the Four Seasons before seeing Jersey Boys, DeVito got into severe money problems, owing mob operatives hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of which the rest of the Four Seasons paid out of their collective pockets, but they subsequently kicked DeVito out of the group.
Shonn Wiley and Michael Ingersoll turned in credible performances as Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, respectively. As with the original Four Seasons, the performers also played their own instruments during the course of the performance with a drummer moving on and off the stage before and after the songs. All the actors in Jersey Boys were very talented performers.
But the show stopper of the performance was Craig Laurie (left) who played the outwardly gay Bob Crewe, the Four Seasons producer who helped penned a number of great songs with Bob Gaudio including the band's first number one hit, "Sherry". Laurie's depiction of Crewe was over the top, but it wasn't a grandstanding performance. Laurie stole many of the scenes with his mincing, effeminate vocal tones and mannerisms. As the performers came forth at the end of the show, the biggest ovation was for Laurie.
There were many things that I didn't know about the Four Seasons before I saw Jersey Boys. It turned out that Gaudio had penned the 1950's teen hit, "Short Shorts" when he was 15. I also didn't know the Four Seasons had a major problem getting their record label to release "Who Loves You", arguably their biggest hit. And I certainly didn't know that Frankie Valli had lost a daughter, Francine, to a drug overdose. That part of the performance was certainly sad and gut-wrenching.
The language in Jersey Boys is salty and typical of the Four Seasons tough neighborhoods where they grew up. A lot of "f-bombs" were dropped and it was sort of fun to see the 60-somethings in the crowd squirm a little bit when the R-rated language was used throughout the show. Some of these older people were taking their grandchildren to see Jersey Boys, hoping to expose them the type of music they listened to during their youth. But from the first nasty word, it was apparent the kids were going to get more than a musical education at Jersey Boys.
Aw, who am I kidding? Kids these days hear language like that from pre-school on...
Overall, the Chicago edition of Jersey Boys was lively, upbeat and full of great songs. But if you want to see it in Chicago, you'd better hurry. It was recently announced that the Chicago production of Jersey Boys would end in early 2010. We were so taken by the performance that we immediately said we'd love to see it again. While tickets weren't tough to get for Jersey Boys when we saw them in August, I have a feeling they're going to be quite tough to get up until they end their run in early January. If a Jersey Boys road company comes near your town, do yourself a favor and go see the show. Even if you weren't brought up on music by the Four Seasons like I was, it's still one of best live stage performances I've ever seen.