Before Bon Jovi ‘lived on a prayer,’ or Bruce Springsteen had his ‘glory days,’ Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons put New Jersey on the map as a birthplace of pop/rock music superstars.
By Jerssica Neu
After a two-year hiatus, the Pittsburgh CLO six-show Summer Series returned to the Benedum Center last night with the opening of the hugely successful musical Jersey Boys. While proof of vaccination is not required, masks are. Still, they proved to be no hindrance for the large and enthusiastic crowd who sang, clapped, and stood throughout the show’s opening night in Pittsburgh.
Jersey Boys (at the Benedum through June 12th} tells the story of the pop group Frankie Valli and the Four Season’s meteoric rise to fame in the 1950s and 60s and, ultimately, the drama and hardship that often parallels such stardom.
The show begins with founding member Tommy DeVito (Devon Goffman) telling his recollection of the group’s early years. His memory establishes the plot and takes audiences down the Jersey Turnpike to the front row of American Bandstand.
The show brilliantly interweaves the passage of time while still texturizing each personal or career milestone for the group. Tommy discovers a young Frank Castelluccio, who quickly changes his name to Frankie Valli (Jon Hacker). Hacker’s tone and falsetto are impeccably similar to Valli’s iconic sound. He delivers a convincing portrayal of Valli’s character with a veracity that invites audiences to both rejoice in his achievement, bereave in his loss, and trust in the power of a handshake.
DeVito, Valli, and the other two group members, Nick Massi (Matt Faucher), the misunderstood bass player, and Bob Gaudio (Eric Chambliss), the even-keeled writer/producer/keyboard player, all take turns as the narrator to tell the group’s story from multiple perspectives.
No matter whose memories are being recalled, Jersey Boys represents the hard work, talent, tenacity, and luck involved in achieving fame. But also the underbelly of fame that catapults each character’s past into the present.
Each member of the Four Seasons came from a lower-middle-class New Jersey upbringing filled with run-ins with the law and back-alley deals. Regardless of how many number-one hits the Four Seasons had, those roots proved inescapable. The notion here is that while fame brings notoriety, no one can escape their core identity. While music can get you off of the streets, you cannot sing your way out of past demons.
If theater fans are eager to return to the CLO, Jersey Boys does not disappoint. This show was by far the most technically precise, well-executed opening night in Pittsburgh performance I have ever seen. The sound quality was superb, each lighting cue on point, and the band positioned downstage delivered a harmonious journey through classic pop music.
Each actor and a small set of stage hands weaved seamlessly across the stage for each scene change and prop strike, giving the show a technical feel more similar to Broadway than Pittsburgh.
The four members of the group, all veteran actors, were paired perfectly together but also shined individually. Even as audience members began to leave after the final curtain call, the four actors remained in character, running off stage arm and arm as if they genuinely were celebrating multiple decade-long careers.
Nuanced in mannerisms, accents, and personality, each actor brought their own talent and baggage to the group, which both served as equal antecedents for success and demise.
Intelligently situated in the historical moment of the mid-1960s, Bob Gaudio reminds audiences that the Four Seasons did not sing for the hippie generation. They were not trying to start a social movement like their British musical counterparts of the same time. Instead, they sang for the factory workers, the men being sent overseas, and the women who awaited their return. They sang for the folks in middle America working in diners.
Their music had an authenticity that permeated airwaves, much like the cigarettes smoked on stage filled the seats with a scent of Marlboro Reds. While reveling in the music and heartfelt drama, Jersey Boys reminds us that stories change over time, and memory is perceptive and subjective. Still, inevitably, “it always comes back to the music and just trying to get home.”
For tickets and more information visit: https://pittsburghclo.culturaldistrict.org/production/76372/list_performances