By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

What happens when a sensation gets eclipsed by a phenomenon?

In 1975 Bob Fosse’s sensational musical “Chicago” opened on Broadway to terrific reviews and full houses.  But a few weeks later, “A Chorus Line” opened and audiences and critics fell over themselves in praise, and “A Chorus Line” won every award in sight, including a Pulitzer.  “Chicago’s” unmistakable merit was largely overlooked.

In the 60’s four blue-collar guys from New Jersey—Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons—were selling millions of records; but the Vietnam War was raging and suddenly four young men from England called the Beatles turned the whole musical and cultural establishment upside down.  The Four Seasons seemed to fade a bit.

In time, “Chicago” revived (in 1996) and is still running on Broadway.  And when Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio (the Voice and the Genius of the Four Seasons) met with writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice in 2004 about the possibility of a musical—using their music—Elice reports that Valli and Gaudio were skeptical:  Their group “didn’t have long hair…exotic accents and didn’t come from across the pond…No glamor quotient.”  So they thought.

Now, thanks to the runaway success of “Jersey Boys,” currently playing at The Fox through June 10, the Four Seasons’ music is being heard all over the world.  The show opened on Broadway in November of 2005; won a slew of 2006 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and is a sellout wherever it plays, including its 2009 smash engagement at the Fox.

Now it’s back and “oh, what a night” it is.  How did these four guys (Valli, Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Nick Massi) from the wrong side of the river become a monster hit—writing their own songs, inventing their own sound, and selling 175 million records worldwide—all before they turned 30?

The show easily transcends the “jukebox musical” label (which has become so pejorative, especially in the Atlanta press) and quickly becomes compelling, character-driven theatre.  The true story of the fateful meeting between songwriter Gaudio (Jason Kappus) and the angel-voiced Valli (Brad Weinstock) unfolds seamlessly with humor and pathos; DeVito (Colby Foytik) and Massi (Brandon Andrus) complete the foursome.

In this testosterone-laden show, Natalie Gallo and Kaleigh Cronin, both playing multiple roles, deserve special mention; they play Jersey girls who you just know would add color and spice to your life.

The strangest aspect of the evening for me is Brad Weinstock’s Frankie Valli.  That special, rare, falsetto vocal quality that John Lloyd Young nailed in his Tony-winning performance is absent here.  Perhaps Mr. Weinstock was having an off-night; I kept thinking, he’s warming up to make Frankie’s transition to superstar of the group more riveting.  But it didn’t happen.  Not that he’s bad (his acting is fine) or anything.  His voice is just pitched a shade lower than is usual for the Valli part; interesting.  It’s such a vocally demanding role that another actor plays the matinees.

There’s very colorful language in the show; parents, be advised.

Des McAnuff directed; choreography, Sergio Trujillo; brilliant lighting design, Howell Binkley.

It all comes back to the music—those songs!–part of our collective subconscious, and we didn’t even know it.  “Jersey Boys” is super-slick and professional; it rocks. Special mention for Barry Anderson as Bob Crew.

For tickets and information, visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/atlanta.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.