By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle
“Jersey Boys” a Hit at Ivoryton Playhouse
The Ivoryton Playhouse seems to have a big fat hit on their hands with “Jersey Boys”, the Tony award winning musical currently on the boards with a reported sold-out run in Ivoryton. This beloved jukebox musical, showcasing the songs of 1960s group The Four Seasons, has a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe. And at Ivoryton, the songs sound pretty good.
Told alternately by each of the original Four Seasons singers, the musical spends probably too much time with the group’s early history and the show doesn’t really kick into gear until a solid 20 minutes in. Let’s face it. If you are a fan of The Four Seasons, you want to hear their music and once it starts at Ivoryton, chances are you won’t be disappointed.
As the story unfolds we meet tough guy Tommy DeVito (Evan Ross Brody) who discovers Frankie Valli (Sean Burns) and becomes the de-facto leader of the group. Low-key Nick (Brendan McGrady) and musical genius Bob Gaudio (a terrific Michael Notardonato) soon come on board and The Four Seasons is born. Tommy’s serious gambling problem and debt to mobsters and Nick’s alcoholism are dealt with as seriously as a musical can and it helps in grounding the show with a deeper reality.
The four leads at Ivoryton are fairly solid especially Notardonato whose dynamic contribution as actor/singer cannot be undervalued here. Burns doesn’t really resemble Frankie Valli, but his sweet demeanor is winning and his vocal chops admirable although by act two the actor was already showing strain. Brody’s diction is questionable at times but his is a wonderfully physical interpretation that doesn’t quit and McGrady is wonderful shading his quiet performance with reserves of inner resentment. Michael Barra registers memorably as a soft-spoken mob boss but, like several of the actors in the ensemble, probably shouldn’t be double-cast in other roles.
But those songs! “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “My Eyes Adored You”, “Working My Way Back to You”, “Rag Doll” and more! Just when you think at intermission they must have run out of hits, the second act pours it on to exhilarating effect. As effective as the book is, the musical numbers, under the crisp direction of Todd L. Underwood with musical direction by Mike Morris, deliver in spades. Technically, I found scenic designer Cully Long’s ugly brick proscenium backdrop tiresome and ordinary, but Underwood’s pacing of the scene changes is masterful assisted by Jessica Ann Drayton’s lighting and Elizabeth A. Saylor’s costumes and wig design. “Jersey Boys” – oh, what a night!
“Jersey Boys” continues at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, through September 10th. For further information, visit: www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.