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July 25, 2021


Two musicals have recently made the scene on Broadway; the new Jersey Boys and the revival of Sweeney Todd of which both rate a heads up.

Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It’s a rock legend that began in Belleville, New Jersey, a working class town just outside of Newark. Tommy De Vito (Christian Hoff), Nick Massi (J. Robert Spencer) and Bob Gaudio (Daniel Reichard) begin singing under the streetlamps before they come across Frankie Valli, (then Frankie Castelluccio) the boy with the angelic voice.

Therefore Act I commences with songs like: “Silhouttes”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, “Earth Angel” and a much requested “My Mother’s Eyes”. I say “much requested” as the story encompasses the “Italian mob scene”. Although there isn’t a “or I’ll break your leg” alternative, Frankie Valli does get a strong request. There is also early years of the members of the group going in and out of jail for minor crimes.

The story is told by writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and directed by Des McAnuff encompassing Valli’s marriage and “away” family life. It is also recalled at times through each member’s point of view. One surprise that the audience may not realize is how the young Joe Pesci got involved with the group.

Back to the music. The first major hit is “Sherry” and that is when the audience that evening went into thunderous applause and screams. John Lloyd Young portrays Frankie Valli and does such an excellent job that you may even think that he’s doing a voice over. But, you can best believe that it is his singing voice.

As a group, you get the pleasure of hearing: “Big Girls Don’t Cry”; “Walk Like A Man”; “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)”; “My Eyes Adore You”; “Dawn”; and a medley of “Stay”, “Let’s Hang On”, “Opus 17” and “Bye, Bye Baby”. Bob Gaudio is the man behind the songs.

The singing group was originally called “The Four Seasons” (after going through various names), but within the story the team breaks up due to their stardom taking a heavy toll on their friendships, marriages and psyches. At the end of the sixties, financial mismanagement and their own personal jealousies tore the group apart. It’s at that time that Frankie is singing, “Stay” and “Let’s Hang On”. Whereupon Frankie Valli goes off on his own and forms the group, “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons”.

But the legend became history as the original Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

It’s a fabulous show even if one is not familiar with the songs. The evening that I experienced Jersey Boys it was obvious that the audience consisted totally of Four Season fans and New Jersey residents. I highly suggest that you purchase the CD as you’ll have the opportunity to not only recall the great music, but some of the dialogue is injected as well.

Incidentally, Jersey Boys is being performed at the August Wilson Theatre, one that I hadn’t had the pleasure of being at prior to this show.

Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd was one of many shows that I had not experienced. The original show starred Angela Landsbury and I do recall there being a television PBS performance that starred Patti Lupone as Mrs. Lovett.

The plot is based on the 19th century legend of a London barber, who is driven to crime when a malicious judge takes his wife and child from him. He meets Mrs. Lovett, an enterprising businesswoman who produces meat pies, that are, at first “the worst tasting pies”, but eventually the tastiest pies in London, due to a partnership of revenge.

What has changed in this production basically boils down (no pun intended) to looking like it could be easily taken on the road. Aside from its basically maintaining one set, as the bakery area is offstage in the back, all of the actors play instruments, thus eliminating the need for an orchestra.

The cast is composed (I dare not say, “deposed”) of a total of 10, of which many play more than one instrument. Patti Lupone, for instance, plays the tuba, triangle, cymbals and orchestra bells. Even Sweeney Todd himself (Michael Cerveris) sports the guitar, orchestra bells and percussion.

I don’t know what happened when characters were killed off in the original show, but due to the music, it would be impossible for them to leave. What was viewed was after each “barber cut”, the character would change into a white coat with dripping blood stains and remain onstage.

Although the performers and performance were absolutely impeccable, Sweeney Todd was just not my cup of blood. Needless to say, if you can stomach the plot, don’t miss this production. I’m sure that it should last for a while and may bloody well not allow for the backers to “go into the red”.

November 17, 2005 - Queens Times


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