By Marie Warner
Seeing a show at Starlight Theatre is one of the best ways to spend a beautiful summer evening in Kansas City. Their current production of JERSEY BOYS is the theatrical equivalent of the summer blockbuster — not life changing, but certainly entertaining.
JERSEY BOYS tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the musical group which produced such hits as “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)”. The production is loosely structured in four seasons with each member of the group providing his own version of the story.
Tommy DeVito is a small time crook and founder of the group. Nick Massi is an impulsive eccentric who is brilliant with arrangements. Bob Gaudio is a songwriter whose songs became #1 hits. And Frankie Valli is the little guy with the incredible falsetto voice that propels the group to stardom. These tough kids with their hardscrabble New Jersey upbringing would make an indelible mark on popular music.
Like so many musical acts, it was not smooth sailing for The Four Seasons. They dealt with their fair share of internal strife, financial woes, and personal tragedies, yet their body of work still stands.
While book writer Rick Elice tries to paint the show as a “play with music” the book is by far the weakest link. The script is heavy on narration and I did not get a strong sense of connection between the characters. The play blithely spans many years without ever really addressing the desires or motivation of its characters. There are also a few odd moments where characters give monologues which reveal deep character flaws and then ask the audience to ignore them. There’s no need to sugar coat the lives these men led, but don’t ask me to just overlook how Nick Massi abandoned his children and pretended he was their uncle for years because life on the road is hard.
The writers made the choice not to integrate songs into the storyline, but rather to present them all as performances by the group. The musical numbers are terrific and amplified by the clever use of video and projections. One number is staged so that the audience is “behind” the performers to give the effect of being onstage with The Four Seasons. It’s a clever and exciting gimmick, allowing the crowd to feel the adrenaline rush of stage lights on their faces.
Musically the cast is outstanding, and Aaron De Jesus shines in the vocally demanding role of Frankie Valli. Cory Jeacoma is also excellent and likable as Bob Gaudio.
The set is sparse, with cast members wheeling or carrying in most pieces. The Roy Lichtenstein-esque projections serve to establish time and place but feel unnecessary at times.
JERSEY BOYS is slickly packaged 1960’s nostalgia. The performances are solid, the music is still incredibly catchy and the audience ate it up. It’s an ideal touring vehicle and draws big crowds. While it’s not particularly thought-provoking or deep, JERSEY BOYS still makes for an enjoyable night under the stars.