Canadians become “New” Jersey Boys
Written by Marshall Brickman a& Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio, Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Performed by Jeremy Kushnier, Jeff Madden, Michael Lomenda and Quinn VanAntwerp
Dancap Productions Inc.
Toronto Centre for the Arts
Canadian cast opened January 17, 2009
Live! On Stage!
Review By Mary Alderson
Back in August 2008, Aubrey Dan of Dancap Productions proudly brought the Broadway tour of the Tony-award-winning Jersey Boys to Toronto. He talked about the Canadian connection – the director was Des McAnuff (now artistic director of the Stratford Festival) and the choreographer was Sergio Trujillo, both of Toronto. Plus, Jeremy Kushnier of Winnipeg was playing one of the lead roles.
And indeed, the touring company put on a very good show, proving popular with Ontario audiences. But on January 20, Jersey Boys reopened, this time with a Canadian cast that is going to stay here – probably for a very long time, if the enthusiasm on opening night is any indication. The energetic Canadian cast brings even more passion to this New Jersey story.
Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We learn the early history – Tommy DeVito and his brother Nick are bad boys – singing under street lamps, and pulling jewellery store break and enters. They hear about a young teenager who sings like an angel, Frankie Castelluccio, and get him to join their trio. Frankie changes his last time to Valli with “i” not a “y” on the advice of his future wife, Mary. She says that he’s an Italian so it has to be an “i” – and y is a b**s**t letter because it doesn’t know if it’s a vowel or a consonant. Between jail time and personnel changes, the Four Seasons eventually evolve. Tommy is the self-proclaimed leader, with Frankie, Nick Massi and later Bob Gaudio.
The show is cleverly put together. The history is traced like the seasons – when the word Spring appears on the overhead screen, (along with comic book sketches) the group is just getting started. When Summer arrives, they are hot and in their heyday. Then comes Fall, where financial troubles and personal squabbles take over. Then Winter: as the group ages, they are finally reunited at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
We are told in the beginning of the show that if you asked each member of the Four Seasons about their rise to fame, each would have a different story. And that’s what we get – as the season’s change, a different member of group takes over as narrator. And each Jersey Boy has a different perspective on how they became chart toppers of early American rock and roll.
Jeremy Kushnier continues in the role of Tommy DeVito with amazing talent. He commands the stage like an Italian mobster. You know he is nothing but bad news, but you love him all the same. Kushnier pulls off the split personality perfectly.
Jeff Madden as Frankie shows off an amazing voice: his baritone flips easily into the trademark falsetto. Songs like Sherry, Rag Doll, or Big Girls Don’t Cry have the authentic Four Seasons sound and will take baby boomers back to places like the Grand Bend roller rink of the early sixties. Madden has an impressive list of credits with the Shaw Festival, and shows his acting skill as Frankie grows throughout the show.
Michael Lomenda who plays Nick Massi will be familiar to fans of Drayton Entertainment – he appeared last summer in “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at Playhouse II in Grand Bend, and in the fall in “Forever Plaid” at St. Jacobs. He plays Nick as if he’s surprised to be taken along on this crazy ride to fame and fortune.
Quinn VanAntwerp (an American in the not quite all-Canadian cast) has a beautiful voice as Bob Gaudio. Gaudio was the talented songwriter of the Four Seasons, and not a tough-guy like the others, which VanAntwerp portrays well. VanAntwerp brings the house down with December,1963, better known as Oh, What a Night, the autobiographical account of Guadio’s, uh…, first time.
Director Des McAnuff has ensured the show never lags, with tight, fast scene changes. In fact, the narrator is telling the next story before the final notes of the last song die off. Credit goes to choreographer Serge Trujillo for the perfect moves that keep the familiar tunes very lively.
A busy cast keeps the show moving, too. Twelve people play 129 parts! The fast costume changes and hectic pace backstage is unimaginable. Their energy adds to the production.
A great orchestra provides a full, rich sound. They give an extra push in the reprise of Walk like a Man at the end of Act I, and again in Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, where Frankie gets the horn section he always wanted.
Audiences are warned that this show contains “authentic New Jersey language”. Don’t bring the kids – the show is liberally sprinkled with the f-word and other epithets.
If you saw Jersey Boys in 2008, come on back and see the Canadian cast – it just gets better! You get an interesting story, cleverly strung together by narrators who were there, plus good old pop rock, sung by amazing voices. If you’re a fan of the stage version of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story or shows like Drayton’s Twist and Shout: The British Invasion and Legends, then you’ll love Jersey Boys. It’s the best of the jukebox musicals.
If you haven’t seen it yet, order your tickets now. It’s at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (formerly the North York Centre or Ford Centre), which is easy to find – just a few blocks north of the 401 on Yonge Street. There’s underground parking as well as a parking lot in back, and you can have dinner right in the theatre.
For tickets, call Dancap at 416-644-3665 or go online to www.dancaptickets.com.
Mary Alderson offers her view of theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.