Jersey Boys: Just Too Good To Be True

Photo by Dan Norman Photography
Photo by Dan Norman Photography

We are halfway through intermission at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre and I have just returned to my seat. The waitress dropped off my coffee and pre-ordered dessert already, so I pick up my fork and prepare to dig in, when suddenly my attention is pulled in the direction of the table just behind mine.

“You know, I’ve never actually seen Jersey Boys,” one of the men confesses in a dramatic stage whisper.

“Me neither!” echoes his date.

I look over my shoulder in time to see the two men sharing a shocked glance before they burst out laughing.

“It’s actually great!” they say, almost simultaneously.

I return my focus to my cake feeling oddly comforted. Confession: I had also never seen Jersey Boys.

My vaguely guilty feeling has been replaced with a sense of solidarity in this shared musical theater blind spot. Sure, Jersey Boys has been a crowd-pleaser for years – it’s just taken a few of us a little longer to catch up to the magic than others.

Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice in the early 2000s, Jersey Boys is a music-heavy, documentary-style play that uses the clever device of the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) to delineate the story of the meteoric rise and eventual fall of the 1960s musical sensation: The Four Seasons.

Band founder, manager, and guitarist Tommy DeVito (Dylan Rugh) narrates the spring, which chronicles the band’s origin. Songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Sam Stoll) takes on summer, in which the band finds its groove. Bassist and arranger Nick Massi (Shad Hanley) narrates fall, at which point everything – you guessed it – begins to fall apart. Finally, winter is recounted by lead vocalist Frankie Valli himself (Will Dusek) as the band struggles to stay together in spite of their many problems.

Photo by Dan Norman Photography

While Jersey Boys is primarily a feel-good musical, it doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of the band’s history. These elements range from the band’s questionable origins to interpersonal conflicts and personal demons. This blend of highs and lows, humor and drama, all set to a soundtrack of comfort music, makes the show as emotionally resonant as it is fun.

This version of Jersey Boys has been cleaned up quite a bit from the original – particularly in terms of language. But it remains a story about the early days of rock and roll, so expect the classic music industry trifecta of sex, drugs, and violence. These days the dulcet tones of The Four Seasons are less likely to evoke the former and more likely to bring about a vague feeling of being in a waiting room or watching that unforgettable Heath Ledger scene from 10 Things I Hate About You. But do not let those melodic, nostalgic tunes fool you: The Four Seasons got into more than their fair share of trouble.

Rich Hamson, the costume designer for this production, did exceptional work in bringing this era to life through the wardrobe of the cast. The costumes not only referenced several of the suits that The Four Seasons wore for specific performances or on album covers, they also captured the essence of the band and the period they performed in.

The set design by Nayna Ramey was a standout feature of this production. Ramey utilized a minimalist set, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks left behind the primary set pieces. The romantic restaurant is implied by a neatly set table covered in a red and white checkered tablecloth. A small apartment is hinted at behind a white, wrought iron bed and its pale, yellow bedspread. The minimalism of the set and the overall intimacy of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre served this production perfectly, bringing the audience in close for each chapter of The Four Seasons story.

Photo by Dan Norman Photography

The actors portraying Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Nick Massi embodied their real-life counterparts with striking accuracy. While the entire quartet delivered stellar performances, Will Dusek’s Frankie Valli emerges as a standout, effortlessly hitting Valli’s iconic falsetto notes and embodying the essence of this musical legend. The supporting cast is full of strong singers, dancers, and performers, although a couple of background casting choices struck me as odd.

Of course, one of the undeniable highlights of Jersey Boys is the music. The show presents a jukebox of timeless hits, and every song was performed with passion and precision. Music director Andy Kust beautifully rose to the challenge of bringing so many timeless hits to the stage. It will take all of your willpower not to sing along to Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and many, many more. Turns out, we all know way more songs by The Four Seasons than we ever could have imagined.

The Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s production of Jersey Boys excels on all fronts. This delightful musical combines fantastic acting, lovely set and costume design, and more standout musical moments than you will know what to do with.

Whether you are a loyal fan of The Four Seasons or just love a well-executed musical, Jersey Boys is sure to satisfy. It is truly a testament to the enduring power of great music and the remarkable journey of the men behind the hits.

Shows continue through the end of February 2024, so get your tickets now!

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