By JESSICA NEU
“Oh What A Show!” Classic Music and Raw Talent Highlight PMT’s Production of Jersey Boys
I have had the pleasure of attending several of Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s (PMT) shows this season. Besides incredible talent, all the shows have one thing in common: they all look cool. Not “cool” in the sense of “that’s neat” or “I really like that,” but “cool” in the sleek, sexy, authentic, gritty way. Jersey Boys is no exception to this trend.
Before Frankie Valli (Adam Marino) hits his first falsetto, audiences are transported back to small-town New Jersey during the Eisenhower days, which Frankie says is “a thousand years ago.” Although the show begins in the 1950s, it may as well be 1,000 years ago, a pre-digital era where a handshake meant everything and $25 was a weekly salary instead of half a tank of gas.
This era was brought to life by the clever set design (Tucker Topel) that truly made the most of the Byham’s stage space, authentic period costumes (Alex Righetti), and lighting design (Forrest Trimble) that made bold colors pop and accentuated the constant light haze hovering over the stage.
Directed and choreographed by Natalie Malotke, Jersey Boys tells the story of Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame superstars Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The show details the band’s tumultuous beginnings, which involved jail time for several band members, and their meteoric rise to fame thanks to songs such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.” David Toole plays founding member Tommy DeVito who creates the group to make it out of Jersey and the judicial system but can never truly let go of his default criminal behavior. Toole plays Tommy with a fierce veracity that is equal parts determination, desperation, and self-destruction. Tensions run high between him and Bob Gaudio (Brecken Newton Farrell), the final group member, who serves as the main songwriter and eventually Frankie’s producer. Farrell’s mild-mannered approach to Bobby is earnest and likable. It also makes his moment singing “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)” exceptionally humorous and charming, offering a pleasant reprieve from the drama throughout the show.
Nick Massi (Quinn Patrick Shannon) is the quiet bassist, but Massi’s presence is the glue that holds the quartet together through times of success, turmoil, chaos, and uncertainty. He embodies the average American looking to achieve the American Dream but eventually succumbs to burnout. He states in the second act, “I’m tired, I just want to go home.” This line is likely relatable to many audience members, proving that even though the show takes place “a thousand years ago,” human sentiment and mortality remain the same.
Adam Marino’s portrayal of the group’s lead singer, Frankie Valli, is filled with talent, timing, and tenacity. His ability to match Valli’s falsetto is just as impeccable as his strong vibrato. Frankie’s life is an emotional push-pull, with him in constant peril, stuck between his wife and children and being a successful musician. Malotke beautifully represents this angst during “My Eyes Adored You” as Frankie stands downstage center as his wife walks up the stairs stage right as she files for divorce. Bobby sits stage right, representing the two priorities Frankie is failing to balance in his life. However, regardless of his choices, Frankie is a good man. He sings songs for the working people of America and believes in the power of a handshake and being loyal above all else. When he takes responsibility for Tommy’s debt, audiences know they are looking at a genuine man whose words matter, an important reminder of the power of dignity and honesty in today’s world.
PMT’s production of Jersey Boys is one of talent, emotion, and grit. Whether it was a thousand years ago, 70 years ago, or today, Jersey Boys represents a timeless sentiment of honesty and loyalty with music that transcends generations and harmonies that remain forever in tune.
PMT’s production of Jersey Boys has performances at the Byham Theater through May 14th. For tickets visit: https://pittsburghmusicals.com/jerseyboys/