And if opening night is any indicator of how the touring production of Jersey Boys, the smash hit Broadway musical that snatched up the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical, will be received elsewhere -- well, the bar has been officially raised. The show wooed, wowed, and serenaded its audience with a rare blend of passion, enthusiasm, and ambition.
Much of the credit goes to the cast. May is flawless as DeVito, so good that it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better. This is definitely a complicated character to undertake; as much as DeVito was the group's creator, he also threatened to be its destroyer. His gambling debts (to the tune of $1 million) and relationships with Jersey's most unsavory characters eventually led Bob Gaudio, the band's songwriter and keyboardist, and Frankie Valli, its adored frontman, to buy out DeVito's share in the group. Still, May brings the proper balance to the role, mixing a proportionate cocktail of gruffness and geniality. The actor oozes confidence in this part, yet injects enough vulnerability so that when his lowest points hit, he isn't a villain nor a scapegoat; he is simply a human being.
Playing the awkward and wry Gaudio is Erich Bergen, who brings forward his Type-A character's subtleties, such as his permeating ego, as well as his seemingly endless patience to the forefront without ever going too far. Michael Ingersoll is wonderfully cast as Nick Massi, the group's bassist, and in the coveted role of Frankie Valli is Christopher Kale Jones, who has the audience swooning up until the final curtain call, and definitely thereafter.
What works perfectly in this production is the electrifying synergy between the four leads. It not only mesmerizes its audience; it rallies the kind of devotion usually found for the underdog. Scenes are not stolen by any one actor and no one is upstaged. What must also be commended is how these four actors understand their parts are more than cover versions of the real thing, and how they hone in on the idiosyncrasies of their respective characters.
Fortunately, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the authors of this play's book, knew they had a story first and a musical second. They don't undercut their audience's intelligence and assume a series of chart-topping songs are suitable replacements for a substantial plot and character development, as illustrated with the snoozer Lennon the Musical or the glorified concert known as Movin' Out.
Sitting in the director's seat again is Des McAnuff, who took the reins for the Broadway production, and imbibes the kind of energy and love that convinces audiences they've missed nothing by not seeing the show in New York.
Indeed, the opening night audience didn't even play by typical New York rules. Standing ovations, often reserved for the end of a show, came whenever and wherever the audience wished, which cleverly and quite serendipitously easily fit into the production's storyline. A particularly strong ovation came during "Dawn (Go Away)," a number that the foursome sings directly to the audience. The cast responded with the utmost grace and modesty, clearly surprised by the feverish response.
Other high-octane moments included "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and the abbreviated version of "C'mon Marianne," which despite its brevity was jammed with vivacity. Even the quiet "My Eyes Adored You" stabbed at the heart.
Indeed, so much of Jersey Boys hits the heart and the soul that this tour is destined to dazzle audiences wherever it goes.