Monday, July 19, 2010

Jersey Boys

Thanks to some wonderful deals, my musical escapades around town haven't stopped for the summer!  Last week I was able to enjoy Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.  Yet another example of a theatre that has changed names, I remember when this place was the North York Centre for the Performing Arts.  Back in 1993 I saw Show Boat there which opened the theatre prior to starting it's Broadway run.  Until Jersey Boys arrived, Show Boat was the longest running show at 88 weeks.  Jersey Boys is now into it's second year and just announced it's closing on August 22.  Our seats were near the back in the centre orchestra section, but were really good.  It's not that large a theatre and even the back row probably had a good view.

Unlike Mamma Mia! I didn't go into this knowing all the music.  In fact all I knew of it was the snippets of "Sherry" and "O What a Night" that are played in the TV ads.  I recognized several others as the performance went on and really enjoyed it.  We had the understudies for the characters of Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, (Grant Tilly and Matt Cassidy respectively) but I don't see how the originals could be any better.  These guys are all very talented.  Other than Frankie (Jeff Madden), they play instruments (guitar for Tommy, bass for Nick and keyboards for Bob Gaudio, played by Quinn Vanantwerp) in addition to the singing and dancing.  All their voices are great and meld very well together.

I liked how the story was told as a personal narrative with each character taking their turn at explaining how the events unfolded to bring the group, which over time when through a multitude of names, from Jersey to the big time.  Presumably, the personalities are somewhat accurate for each character:  Tommy getting into trouble with money, Frankie having family problems and even losing a daughter to drugs, Nick quitting just when things were starting to turn around, and Bob being the song writer and still honouring the business agreement he made with Frankie on a handshake.  The ending where each character described their current life (unfortunately Nick has died), was also very well done.  You think it might end on a sad note, but then they all come back to do one last song and people leave humming.

The last 3/4 I liked the best, since the beginning seemed to rush through a lot of segments of songs without much focus.  The set was effective too with an overhead catwalk adding an additional level for entrances and exits, as well as a place for the trumpet, trombone, and saxes to play during one of the hit numbers (which of course I now can't remember).  During the preface to one song, which Bob wrote specifically for Frankie, they showed how it took some serious selling to the record company and radio stations to get it played.  Through the whole segment the name of the song wasn't mentioned.  Just when  you'd expect someone to say the name the scene would switch to Bob trying to convince someone new to agree to play it.  Finally it's "play the song already", which was exactly how I felt, since they were giving this unknown piece such a big build up.  The song ended up being "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" which was well deserving of the tension.

Other songs I ended up having the "they did that?" reaction to were "Earth Angel", "Walk Like a Man", and "Working My Way Back to You".  If deals are still available, I may get a chance to see this one again before it leaves.  Only 1 month left, if you haven't been...GO!

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