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October 21, 2004

Gritty, blue-collar 'Jersey Boys' is rich, rewarding

North County Times

Take a real-life rags-to-riches story, some of the '60s best pop songs, an excellent script, smart direction and a great cast, and you've got "Jersey Boys," the terrific new musical in its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse. This hugely entertaining docu-musical ---- which tells the surprising true story of the doo-wop vocal group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ---- is a dark, funny, fast-paced and moving blue-collar story about the four New Jersey natives who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to sell more than 100 million records and end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Co-written by New Yorkers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, "Jersey Boys" has a gritty regional authenticity. The subtle, profanity-laced dialogue has a natural flow, and the richly written, warts-and-all characters are developed to a level rarely seen in musical theater. And because the songs flow organically from the band's writing and recording sessions and their electric live performances, the show has a more realistic, almost-cinematic scope.

"Jersey Boys" couldn't have been easy to cast or stage, but director Des McAnuff, the Playhouse's artistic director, has found a quartet of quadruple-threat actors who can act, sing, play their own instruments and even dance on occasion. Sweet-faced David Norona eerily re-creates Valli's famous falsetto vocals, and San Diego native Christian Hoff (whose blond curls may be hidden under brown hair dye but not his trademark smirk) is exceptional as band founder Tommy DeVito, the quintessential Jersey wise guy.

Their story begins in the late 1950s, when the group's name and lineup changed frequently as members drifted in and out of prison for various crimes. DeVito, a guitarist/singer who financed the band with petty crimes, coaxes diminutive singer Frankie Castelluccio (later Valli) to join the mix. But it isn't until the arrival of Gaudio (who by age 16 already had a No. 2 hit) that the band really jells. Gaudio's knack for writing catchy tunes that showcased Valli's stratospheric vocals repeatedly sent them to No. 1 with "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man" and more than a dozen other top 10 hits.

There are plenty of stumbles along the way, though. At the height of the band's fame, DeVito's criminal connections and unpaid debts land the band in trouble with the mob and even in jail. Eventually DeVito is forced out; Massi, isolated by Gaudio and Valli's legendary handshake partnership, quits; and Gaudio retires from the stage to write. Only Valli continues performing until the members reunite 20 years later at their Hall of Fame induction. More

Posted by acapnews at October 21, 2004 9:48 PM