Jersey Boys – “Four guys under a street lamp…”
I never realized until now that Jersey Boys may be my favorite musical. You know why?
First of all, the music. Man, oh man! I know it’s a jukebox musical, but what a catalog to work with! The songs of The Four Seasons are just amazingly well-crafted with catchy melodies. Then when you translate the actual person Frankie Valli to the character, you get these amazing performers like John Lloyd Young and Jarrod Spector. Basically to play Frankie Valli, you have to have Jersey swagger, vulnerability, and an amazing voice to boot. Spector is second only to John Lloyd Young for me, because Young was so amazing that he practically out-Vallid Valli.
Secondly, the book. In Jersey Boys, the songs are used to tell the story of the Four Seasons, from their humble beginnings, to their rise to fame, and subsequent downfall. We know the songs. But the musical shows us how they were created, and consequently how they made the group. And it all works so perfectly.
All the other elements like stage and lighting design complete the package. The set is quite sparse, with basically an elevated walkway anchoring all the action. But when it comes to the scenes with the Four Seasons performing, the lighting makes you feel like you are watching a concert.
I’ve only seen the musical once, around 6 years ago. It was such a mind-blowing experience (I even got to meet the Toronto Frankie Valli!), that I promised myself when it came to Manila, for the first time in my life I would splurge on front row seats. Cut to 2016, and thanks to Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG)’s local staging, I had a chance to fulfill that promise.
In the Manila theater scene, the name “Atlantis” carries considerable weight. But even so, you would not believe all the naysayers who basically laughed at me for planning to watch a local Jersey Boys production. They smirked at the fact that two of the Four Seasons would be played by pop stars. And to be honest, as the months passed (because of course I bought my tickets the moment they went on sale, about three months before the show), the negative vibes got to me, and I felt myself getting less and less excited to go. What if they ruined my favorite musical?
But you know what? The Manila production blew me away! (Take that, haters!) I felt like I was holding my breath from the first note, but when the boys started singing, I was finally able to exhale. The harmonies were tight. Kudos to Nyoy Volante (Frankie Valli), Markki Stroem (Tommy DeVito), Nino Alejandro (Nick Massi), and Christian Bautista (Bob Gaudio) – they nailed it! This is the Four Seasons we’re talking about, and yes, Frankie Valli’s voice is angelic, but those harmonies have got to work or everything else will fall apart.
Also? The accents were on point. I didn’t realize that that was something I was scared about too. Because, come on, Filipinos are not from Jersey. And I’ve been to enough plays where the accents just didn’t work and ruined the production for me. But not with this crew. Even Jaime Wilson (Gyp DeCarlo) nailed his Mafia boss voice.
(Bibo Reyes as Bob Crewe and Nelsito Gomez as Joe Pesci were also standouts – Gomez in particular because he also came out as the singer covering “Oh What A Night” in French in the first scene. I felt a bit attacked by his abs because I was not prepared for that. I completely forgot how the first scene was supposed to go. Were there always abs?)
When the boys donned those iconic red jackets and it was time for the magical sequence of “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and “Walk Like A Man”, I felt goosebumps all over. I was grinning from ear to ear like a ginormous idiot and mouthing the songs. (I hope the actors didn’t notice. That would be embarrassing. Also, do you think they heard me sniffling during “Fallen Angel”? Because the song, the lighting, and everything just ruined me, it was that good.) And then you get to the buildup for “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. The audience was already cheering even before the song started. All I could think was, they took good care of it! It’s still the same, and it’s still great!
Jersey Boys Manila didn’t just work out because of the lower expectations forced on me by the haters. No. It was world-class by any standard. Even though Christian Bautista looked awkward on stage, and I wasn’t even sure what accent he was trying, I was still able to let it go. Because when he sang, he really sang. The boys weren’t playing their own instruments, but it would have been too much to ask that, so though I still mention it, let me also say that it did not lessen my enjoyment one bit. As the second act was drawing to a close, I was feeling that familiar sensation of wanting to slow down time because I knew the play was about to end.
It’s such a cliche now, but oh what a night!