Hate today’s Auto-Tune-enabled pop songs? Your anger might burn hotter after taking in the touring production of “Jersey Boys,” a superior jukebox musical which routinely transcends the label.
“Jersey Boys,” currently playing at the Buell Theatre in Denver through Aug. 11 before moving on to Portland, Edmonton, Providence, R.I. and Pittsburgh, returns us to the glory days of four scrappy lads from the Garden State.
Even teens weened on Katy Perry and Lady Gaga can’t escape songs like “Walk Like a Man” and “Sherry,” tracks forever woven into our cultural fabric for all the right reasons. They still swing, and the game cast of the show’s current tour mostly do them justice.
There’s only one Frankie Valli, but when “Jersey Boys” hits every mark it’s as if the British Invasion was merely a military phrase waiting for a purpose.
What lurks not too far beneath the surface is the notion that these four lads – Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi – didn’t hate the Man or engage in hippie-fueled flights of fancy like their musical peers. They were blue-collar born and raised, and their music never became anthems for the flower power crowd.
“Jersey Boys” doesn’t get political, but the undercurrent of musicians’ success and longevity speaks for itself.
The musical begins with a brief allusion to modern, hip-hop music before taking us back to the late 1950s when a tough as nails musician Tommy (Colby Foytik) lures pint-sized Frankie (Brad Weinstock) into his band.
The pair quickly bond even though Tommy routinely drags Frankie into his illegal behavior. They survive brushes with the law and fatefully team up with a songwriter (Jason Kappus as Bob Gaudio) who turns Frankie’s crackling falsetto into a gold record-making machine.
And those hits remain pure pop wonders, even if Weinstock can’t perfectly recreate Valli’s soaring vocals. Who could, really? Weinstock gets the feisty attitude of the perennial underdog despite sounding like Lou Costello trying to keep up with his partner’s latest scam.
“Jersey Boys” lacks a standout musical number, yet the consistency of the songs and their execution offers its own palpable rewards. The staging choices almost all click, especially when the band performs to a live camera and we see both the band in motion and the image shooting out to TV sets across the country.
The production stumbles a few times, including a rushed sequence involving the death of a key character’s daughter and some of the legal wrangling behind the scenes. Kudos to book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice for packing so much musical history into a superior jukebox musical. The show doesn’t force songs like “Rag Doll” to tell the group’s fractured rise and fall. Instead, the songs become time markers, examples of how the quartet matures despite the massive in fighting.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons should have imploded before it reached music nirvana, but the bonds of loyalty to each other and their humble home state held them together. They were too busy proving everyone who knew them wrong, that they could overcome the cultural forces that kept many of their old pals glued to dead end Jersey jobs.
“Jersey Boys” is decidedly old fashioned despite the tough Jersey Tawk, a musical dedicated to a group which always put the music first and let nothing else stand in the way.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies