Review: 'Jersey Boys' is Utterly Unforgettable at Saugatuck Center for the Arts

There is a moment in Saugatuck Center for the Arts’ production of the multiple Grammy- and Tony-Award winning “Jersey Boys” in which an image of the Four Seasons on a black and white television is projected above the band as they perform their hit “Sherry” on stage—in technicolor of the variety one can only experience in person—and the crowd goes wild. 

The actual crowd in the theatre of which you are a member. Screaming and clapping and whistling. And the performers react. Genuinely react to that.

This moment symbolizes the thrill of seeing this show. The songs, the history, are deep within our collective consciousness; and yet seeing them performed live as part of the phenomenal story of how Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons came to be in a musical biopic for the stage is a revelation that inspires goosebumps from start to finish and brings us into that moment of history as if for the first time.

“Jersey Boys” hit Broadway in 2005 and its staying power as a jukebox musical has everything to do with the popularity and familiarity of its indelible songs as well as the compelling documentary-style story of how four guys from New Jersey became one of the most successful pop bands in history.

The story is structured as the spring, summer, fall, and winter of the band’s evolution with the four members each narrating a season, because “everybody remembers it how they need to,” as guitarist Tommy DeVito (Daniel Miller) says, and “some things are being left out,” says bassist Nick Massi (Jonathan Cable) when he steps in.

Together with front man Frankie Valli (Justin Albinder) and song writer/keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Steve Grant Douglas), they form a brotherhood with “the neighborhood”, the time and place from which they emerged, as a character and cultural driving force. They’re Italian-Americans and the mob, gambling, prison, women as peripheral yet a nagging desire, and personal code are as potent as the music.

And the music is indeed potent. Not just because it’s reminiscent of better days, but because these are excellent songs (music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe) performed magnificently by a stellar cast under inspired direction from Kurt Stamm with creative choreography from Jay Gamboa and wonderful musical direction from Josh Keller who leads a terrific seven-piece band.

The show begins and ends with “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” and makes good on that promise, from the spectacular hip-hop-influenced “Ces-soirées la” French adaptation to the band playing the crowd out of the theater with the same danceable tune. Other impossible-not-to-sing-a-long tunes include “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Rag Doll”, “Bye, Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, among many fabulous others.

No performance is short of a virtuoso performance here, and in addition to the four spectacular leads who fully embody distinct characters as well as sing and dance as if they were the Four Seasons themselves, nine other actors (Corey Barrow, Kyle Southern, Neil Stratman, Gina Milo, Becca Andrews, Payton Reilly, Eric Gutman, Jeff Meyer, Jeremy Koch) each play a true-to-life central character as well as many other roles extraordinarily well, moving set pieces on and off the stage, creating lightning-quick, seemingly effortless scene changes, giving the two-and-a-half hour show terrific pacing as well as texture and deeper meaning as it joyfully flies by.

That isn’t to say there isn’t also a deeper element of darkness here. Valli cheats on his wife and loses his daughter to drugs; Devito nearly loses it all gambling; the band splits up; the brotherhood nearly falls apart. And yet. The music and their story remain. And are now made utterly unforgettable thanks to the truly spectacular ensemble and creative team at Mason Street Warehouse.

Jeremy Barnett’s two-tiered set with chain-link accents allow for plenty of movement, from place to place (made clear by excellent projections from Christopher Mahlmann) and for the drum kit to move forward and back, distinguishing between background music and full-on concert performance. Jennifer Kules’ trademark lighting design in bold colors work beautifully with gorgeous costumes with Mid Century authenticity leased courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine and designed by Darlene Veenstra that swell in color and sophistication as the band’s success grows. Jay Gamboa’s delightful choreography follows suit, moving from basic swaying and step-tap, step ball change to bigger and bolder as well as splashes of hip hop and break dance. And sound design from Technical Director Cameron Griffiths is superb.

“Jersey Boys” at Saugatuck Center for the Arts is pretty much flawless—destined to please fans of the show, fans of the music, as well as those who simply appreciate truly excellent live theatre and Broadway-quality triple-threat performances. You’ll undoubtedly dance out of the theater thinking if not singing “Oh What a Night!”

Jersey Boys
Saugatuck Center for the Arts
Aug. 11-Sept. 3