It’s more than an understatement to say my knowledge of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was a bit scarce. Beyond memories of seeing my dad working in the garage and jamming out to “Working My Way Back to You,” I didn’t know anything about this legendary group.
And honestly, I think that’s truly the best way to go into a performance of “Jersey Boys” — completely unaware and ready for anything.
Perhaps it’s my naivety speaking here, but when I heard songs like “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” growing up, the last thing that came to mind was a group of four blue-collar guys from the wrong side of town with a lead singer who was one bad performance away from going back to barber school.
In truth, the story of this legendary pop group gives new meaning to the term underdog. Starting from more-than-modest roots, the group began like any other band trying to make it — playing at dive bars for chump change, struggling with direction and changing their band members about as much as their stage name.
The show is really less of a musical and more of a multiple-perspective film — think VH1 “Behind the Music” without the dramatic narrator and sprinkled with live performances.
Speaking of those live performances, from the recording studio to on-air at The Ed Sullivan Show, the cast truly nails it. It’s almost overwhelming to remember just how many hits this group produced and next to impossible to keep your toes quiet during each song.
One of my favorite aspects of this show is the flawless movement between scenes. From a basement bar performance to a roving drummer on wheels and even a music industry exec whooshing in on his desk chair, the creativity used in the blocking of this performance is brilliant. The audience even gets to play its part, acting as the crowd during peak performances and the receiving end of a first-time flabbergasted Frankie Valli.
In another unforgettable scene, the audience goes from seeing a performance first-hand to being turned around to view it from the angle of the stars on stage — big bright lights and all.
A seemingly stale base set of a steel walkway and adjoining stairs becomes a symbolism for those who’ve gone to the other side, turning a simple walk into an emotional journey.
While I don’t want to give away too much of the plot — the ride is part of the fun — I will say that the events leading up to the group’s coveted induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame are unlike any other. Take a few scenes from “Goodfellas,” mix in an angelic sounding four-part harmony, a few personal tragedies and classic “Jersey” language and you’re left with a story about never giving up and the knowledge that sometimes God-given talent isn’t always enough.
It’s true, the vast history behind Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is beyond interesting enough on its own but what propels this show into another dimension is the stellar, pitch-perfect cast. Joseph Leo Bwarie has been playing the role of Frankie for more than three years — and boy, does it show. Bwarie has the perfect pipes for Mr. Valli, effortlessly hitting a range that would even make a high soprano blush. Beyond the fresh falsetto, Bwarie takes the character through true transformation from the naïve to the never-ending.
Matt Bailey plays the ring leader (for better or for worse) as Tommy DeVito, a true Jersey native with a fast-talking big mouth and even bigger ego. Yet, true to form for Jersey boys, Bailey’s underlying charm makes him oddly lovable — even when he’s seemingly at his lowest point.
Steve Gouveia, who plays the self-described “Ringo” of the group, Nick Massi, is from the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys” and returns to the Orpheum stage after appearing in the highly successful run in 2008. Gouveia’s deadpan humor and constant consideration to start his own band add a light-hearted dialogue to otherwise serious scenes.
As the baby-faced music man and songwriting mastermind, Quinn Vanantwerp plays an adorable Bob Gaudio — one that forever changed the way I’ll think about the hit song, “Oh, What a Night.”
All four combine for an entertaining entity that highlights the quartet’s rollercoaster journey through the ups and downs of stardom. For the audience, it’s a great reminder of the days when pop artists meant more than flashy costumes and nonsensical lyrics. It’s a chance to be immersed in a world of icons and game changers, even before they knew they would be — and really, that’s a ride that anyone can enjoy.
“Jersey Boys” runs through May 8 at the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Orpheum Theatre. Tickets range from $29 to $85 and are on sale now. For more information, click here.
WCCO-TV’s Mike Binkley Interviews The “Jersey Boys”