By Richard Ades
Why is Jersey Boys so much more fun the second time around?
Part of it may be due to lowered expectations. Prior to the touring show’s Columbus debut in 2011, the press attended a preview during which we were told to expect a spectacle that would put every other musical to shame. We also were informed that male viewers, in particular, would be reduced to manly tears by this trip down the Four Seasons’ Memory Lane.
Well, it didn’t happen. Not to me, at least. The show’s historically correct harmonizing was great, but the dramatic portions left my eyes dry.
Fast forward to earlier this week, when the latest version of the touring show returned to the Ohio Theatre. I went, expecting little, and got a lot. In fact, I had a ball.
But the difference can’t be attributed entirely to my new lack of optimism. I think the production is noticeably better this time around.
That’s particularly true in regards to the key role of lead singer Frankie Valli. Two years ago, the featured actor hit the falsetto notes with aplomb, but he couldn’t carry off some of the tale’s most touching moments. Now, though, Nick Cosgrove does it all without a hitch—singing, acting and even a few athletic dance moves.
Actors playing the rest of the New Jersey-bred quartet are equally fine: Nicolas Dromard as the out-for-himself Tommy DeVito, Jason Kappus as songwriter Bob Gaudio and a comically laconic Brandon Andrus as Nick Massi.
With a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, this 2006 Tony Award winner relates the history of the Four Seasons by allowing each member of the 1960s rock group to tell his side of the tale in turn. It’s a clever tack and probably a necessary one, given that three of the four original members are still alive and don’t necessarily agree on the details.
A bevy of talented supporting cast members play the many people who wander in and out of the musicians’ lives. Key actors include Barry Anderson as record producer Bob Crewe, Marlana Dunn as Mary Delgado and Thomas Fiscella as sentimental gangster Gyp DeCarlo.
Under Des McAnuff’s direction, the cast and crew work as a unit while the action flows fluidly from one scene to the next, sometimes even in the midst of song. Meanwhile, Klara Zieglerova’s set design and Howell Binkley’s lighting design fill the stage with images that are subtly handsome and perfectly complementary. As a piece of stagecraft, Jersey Boys is a wonder.
But the show’s real highlight is the music—the just-right re-creations of hits such as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. And that’s due not only to the actors’ vocal prowess but to conductor Ben Hartman and his onstage band. Special kudos to Mark Papazian, without whose emphatic drumming the night would be far less joyful.
Were my eyes still dry when I left the show this time around? Yes, but I didn’t care. The rest of my face was smiling.
Broadway in Columbus and CAPA will present Jersey Boys through Sept. 29 at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $28-$128. 614-469-0939, 1-800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.