Garden State of Mind
Brimming with terrific covers of hits by The Four Seasons, the Jersey Boys cast album is a slam-dunk.
Now that there's no longer any doubt about the marketability of such discs, the main point that needs to be made in regard to Rhino's Jersey Boys cast album is that it's terrific. The show has received ecstatic reviews, phenomenal word of mouth, and tons of publicity attendant to its recent Broadway opening, so you probably already know that it's a biomusical about The Four Seasons. Jersey Boys trumps other jukebox musicals in charting the history of that legendary pop group rather than attempting to shoehorn the songs into a concocted story. Almost all of the songs in the show are presented as performance numbers; the remainder are used to comment generally on the action rather than (mis)applied to specific situations, with one major exception (see below).
In praising the show, some wags have remarked that John Lloyd Young sings the Frankie Valli stuff perfectly because there's no break between his normal singing voice and his falsetto range, but this is not quite true. If you listen very closely, you can hear Young switch back and forth between his equally powerful chest and head voices in "Walk Like a Man," "Sherry," etc. -- and his performances are all the more exciting for that reason. Indeed, his vocal pyrotechnics are downright thrilling; but he can also deliver a ballad persuasively, as evidenced by his renditions of "My Eyes Adored You" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."
The singers who play the other three Seasons -- Christian Hoff (Tommy DeVito), Daniel Reichard (Bob Gaudio), and J. Robert Spencer (Nick Massi) -- are not showcased as fully on the cast album because (1) they don't do as much solo singing, and (2) their baritone voices don't stand out as much as Lloyd's high-flying vocals in the group numbers. But their harmonies are excellent, and Reichard does get a chance to shine as a soloist in "Cry for Me" and "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." The authenticity of the Rhino cast album is enhanced by the fact that it was produced by Bob Gaudio himself. The sound quality of the recording is excellent, and it includes just enough narration and dialogue to tell the story without being annoying. (The show's book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.) Ron Melrose is credited with music direction, vocal arrangements, and incidental music -- but, wisely, the arrangements ape the original records as closely as possible. This was not the case with Lennon, Good Vibrations, or All Shook Up, and look what happened to them!
You've got to see Jersey Boys on Broadway for its performances, its top-notch production elements, and its dazzling staging, but an advantage of the cast album is that it doesn't replicate some of the show's minor flaws. The one time the creators stumble in attempting to use a song to comment directly and specifically on the action is when Valli sings "My Eyes Adored You" immediately following the breakup of his marriage, even though not all of the lyrics make sense in that context. ("Though I never laid a hand on you, my eyes adored you." He never laid a hand on his wife? No wonder she left him!) With the preceding dialogue scene absent from the album, the song can be enjoyed in its own right. Also missing here is the rushed, unconvincing sequence in which Valli reacts to the death of his daughter. In fact, the only real flaw of the recording is Christian Hoff's overdone New Jersey accent.
Back when TV's Saturday Night Live was funny, it featured a sketch in which one New Jerseyan attempted to determine exactly where a state-mate lived by asking, "What exit?" This became a national joke, but it certainly doesn't apply to Jersey Boys. When you see the show, you'll never want to leave -- and listening to the superlative cast album is a great way to spend the time until you score tickets.