Review: Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre

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Jersey Boys, the documentary-style musical about the lives and careers of the iconic Four Seasons, brings a fantastic new life and energy to the classic ’60s band. This revival, directed by Des McAnuff, combines the authentic music and dance of the Four Seasons with a sleek and modern new design to turn a 40-year history into one seamless narrative.

While the structuring of the musical into ‘four seasons,’ each narrated by a different member of the band, felt a bit cliche, those divisions did not carry into the rest of the piece. I was originally put off by the device of the narrator, but these storytellers only serve to accelerate the tale and do not at all exist in the place of real plot or character development, as theatrical narrators so often do. Instead, they make the musical feel like what it is–the retelling of how the Four Seasons got where they were through interviews with the original band members. The story of the play remains mostly chronological, though the narrators are clearly speaking from the present, allowing the audience to really invest in the tale as they hear it. And even though the ‘we make it big and then everything falls apart from the inside’ plot is incredibly predictable (because it does in fact happen so often to musical groups), that doesn’t keep you from rooting for them as everything goes wrong.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this production was the staging, in which the base set–which functions as recording studio, stage and sketchy Jersey neighborhood all at once–remains the same, but entire bars and hotel rooms as well as smaller pieces move in and out with flawless precision. With some creative focused lighting, you don’t even notice an entire car has been moved onstage until the characters step inside. A fly system and other clever technological tricks were in full effect, but always to serve the performance and never just for their own sake. Years could go by in the blink of an eye, and you would never know it until the next actor opened his mouth.

Of course, the real star of the show is the music. True to the original tunes in every way but still feeling fresh and vibrant, these songs drive the performance, seamlessly melding in and out of the narrative so it always feels as though the Four Seasons are putting on a show. Even the occasional projection of real television coverage of the concerts from the 1960s only adds to the sense of being transported to the height of their music’s popularity.

While it is rather shameful that in a cast numbering around twenty, all of the female roles can be played by only three actresses, perhaps this says as much about the culture of 1960s pop music as about the musical itself. The men, meanwhile, are eternal, unaging, forever symbols of what they represented in the public eye for their entire careers. And while that does make it difficult to distinguish between characters until they open their mouths and the authentic, stereotypical Jersey accents emerge in full force, the story remains simple and easy to follow. Four Jersey boys who loved to play set out to make it big, and after more hardships than they could have possibly imagined, they made it.

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