Review of Jersey Boys at Stages St. Louis

    The production of Jersey Boys at Stages St. Louis achieved the impossible. It increased my admiration for one of my favorite shows.

    Like all jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys is built around preexisting songs. Like few other jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys features a story as brilliant as the score.

    The music in Jersey Boys is drawn from the songbook of the great American rock group, the Four Seasons. The story is drawn from the lives of the original members.

    Book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice arrived at an ingenious way of presenting the group’s history. They tell the story in four parts from four different perspectives. Each part is named for a season and narrated by one of the Four Seasons.

    The group’s beginnings are recounted in the section labeled Spring. Its narrator is Tommy DeVito, the lead guitar and founder of the group. The narrator in Summer is the group’s composer, Bob Gaudio. His joining the group led to its full flowering.

    The Fall section’s storyteller is bass player Nick Massi, the first original member to leave the group. He’s the obvious person to air grievances that threatened the group’s solidarity. Lead singer Frankie Valli narrates Winter, when the Four Seasons became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

    As impressed as I have always been with Brickman and Elice’s book, I admired it even more at Stages. The jockeying for control between DeVito and Gaudio, for example, is depicted with subtle but telling details I hadn’t noticed before. One reason I noticed them at Stages is the focus of Michael Hamilton’s knowing direction and Dana Lewis’s lively choreography, which are less relentlessly driven than in other productions I’ve seen.

    Heading the excellent cast at Stages is Christopher Kale Jones, who fully understands the development of Frankie Valli’s artistry and character. Brent Michael DiRoma invests Tommy DeVito with the right sort of reckless bravado. Jason Michael Evans captures Nick Massi’s sullenness, while Ryan Jesse establishes Bob Gaudio as the brains of the group.

    Stages favorite Edward Juvier delightfully embodies the eccentricities of producer Bob Crewe. Local favorites Steve Isom and John Flack display notable versatility in a variety of roles. So do the four performers who play all the show’s women: Jenna Coker-Jones, Sarah Ellis, Donna Louden, and Dena DiGiacinto.

    Jersey Boys is the second Stages show in a row with a live band rather than the usual synthesized music. It’s an excellent group, playing under musical director Jeremy Jacobs.

    Scenic designer James Wolk frequently demonstrated his ingenuity on the small stage on which Stages performed until this year. Wolk is equally at home at the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, where his set has the flexibility needed for the show’s fast-moving action.

    The band is visible at key moments on the set’s upper level thanks to a raisable wall. The trumpets’ entrance on this level is a moment to savor. Brad Musgrove’s costumes and Sean M. Savoie’s lighting add to the production’s visual splendor.

    One of the most gripping scenes in the final section is the struggle to win over blasé programming managers to get airtime for a song the group believes in. The buildup to this number is not too good to be true.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by  ProPhotoSTL