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Wednesday, October 5,2011

Give it up for 'Jersey Boys'

Rousing, Tony-winning tale of The Four Seasons brings down the house at the Wharton Center

by ALLAN I. ROSS

A typical round of applause after a song in a Broadway
musical is about 10 seconds. Stop for a moment, count that out to
yourself and imagine how long that really is: One one thousand, two one
thousand, three one thousand ...


That’s a decent stretch of time, even for an Andrew Lloyd
Webber-level showstopper. At last Friday’s show of “Jersey Boys,” four
separate numbers earned nearly three times that (including a standing
ovation in the middle of the show). That’s 30 full seconds of applause.
You don’t have to count that one out — that’s audience love.


So what could possibly warrant such a rousing response?
Best guess: a combination of music that is ingrained in the DNA of
post-World War II American pop culture, a tight book that captures that
lightning-in-a-bottle exhilaration of watching a group of artists
discover themselves and … oh who am I kidding — it’s the Frankie Valli
solos that can pull your heart up into your throat with a falsetto
switch then send it plummeting back with a key change.


Due credit must be given to Joseph Leo Bwarie, who plays Valli, the heart and soul of every incarnation of The Four Seasons.


Sure, the band was the brainchild of schemer Tommy DeVito
(Matt Bailey), but it was Valli’s angelic vocal range — aided by
songwriter Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd) and bassman/arranger Nick
Massi (Michael Lomenda) — that propelled The Four Seasons from singing
under a streetlight to becoming a British Invasion-proof juggernaut.
Bwarie hits every last one of Valli’s legendary notes, convincingly
embodying the singer — warts and all — yet still makes him feel like
your kid brother.


The show opens with “Ces Soiress-la,” a 2000 hip-hop
version of the 1976 French remake of The Four Seasons’ 1975
chart-topper “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night).” This isn’t just
Americana; it’s trans-cultural rock and roll. From there we get to see
the group as they go through their, um, four seasons: spring (the
band’s formation and rise to fame), summer (their ride to the top of
the charts) and so on. This cookie-cutter premise thankfully eschews
treacle and, yes, even predictability with its compelling
characterizations and its R-rated dialogue.


Polished to a gem can’t begin to describe the slickness
of “Jersey Boys” (which won the Tony Award for best musical in 2005 and
is still running on Broadway).


The catwalk backdrop frames an ever-shifting series of
impressionistic scenes including a recording studio, nightclub and even
the stage of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The songs (and you know nearly
every one of them) morph from impromptu jam sessions into full-on
performances that prompt the lengthy acclaim. It was almost as if the
audience was given the opportunity to give direct thanks to the
original members in the form of their avatars, with the actors
appearing truly humbled to accept the accolades.


And boy, as an audience member, does it feel good to heap it on.




’Jersey Boys’


Wharton Center


Through Oct. 16


7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays


$35-$95


(800) WHARTON


www.whartoncenter.com

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