Top: Drew Gehling, Bryan McElroy, Michael Ingersoll and Cory Grant as the Four Seasons. Bottom: Cory Grant as Frankie Valli.
Winding up for the big finale of “Jersey Boys,” Frankie refers to himself as the Energizer Bunny of the music industry. “I just keep going and going and going,” he says of his remarkable career at the top of the pop charts. The same could be said of the show itself.
Since arriving in Chicago in October, 2007, JB has drawn roughly three quarters of a million people to the Shubert – whoops – Bank of America Theatre. Eight shows a week, and at least one standing ovation (and often three) every show, the story of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is a jukebox juggernaut.
Over a year into the show’s run, there’s a new Frankie. With the arrival of Cory Grant, it’s worth asking whether the show still holds up. My hand to God (as Four Seasons founder Tommy DeVito might say), yes it does. JB remains as solid as a Jersey contract, that famous binding handshake that’s kept the music flowing for 40 years.
With a mega-watt smile, a soaring falsetto and the no-nonsense, down-to-earth demeanor of a neighborhood kid made good, Grant’s got the role of Frankie Valli down cold. He’s a consummate showman who radiates regular guy machismo, both traits that are essential to the show’s cross-gender appeal. The ladies may swoon at Frankie’s heart-breaker voice and crush on his teen idol looks, but he’s got enough street cred to appeal to guys as well. The show also boasts a new Tommy DiVito in the person of Bryan McElroy. As the group's founder, McElroy brings all the necessary cocksure bullheadedness to the stage, personifying the old neighborhood's obnoxious, know-it-all big brother and a man done in by hubris.
Beyond those two, the “Jersey Boys” cast remains as it was opening night. Think about that for a moment: For over a year, this group has been doing eight shows a week, 33 songs a show. When they’re not singing, the cast is called on to careen through an emotional marathon, re-living the band’s formation, hit-making breakthrough, halcyon years and breakup, instilling each fraught scene with a sense of spontaneity strong enough to make you believe they’re experiencing it all for the very first time. Heck, composer Bob Gaudio (Drew Gehling) even has to lose his virginity at every performance. As for the multiple-part playing wonders Jonathan Weir (Gyp DeCarlo and others), Craig Laurie (Bob Crewe and others), Dominic Bogart (Norm Waxman and others) and the rest, they're as strong as they were on opening night.
We’ve seen the show four times, and by sheer dint of familiarity, it’s lost some of the heart-pounding magic it had the first time we took it in. We can’t imagine what happens to that magic after you’ve performed it 400 times. Sure, there’s a buzz like no other that comes from being on the receiving end of a rapturous ovation ever night, but saying the same lines for the hundredth time has an aspect of the assembly line about it. You need fortitude to keep it evergreen.
The workhorses of Chicago’s “Jersey Boys “have that fortitude and more. From the opening French cover of “Oh What a Night” (Ce Soir Est La), through decades of success and heartbreak, the kids still have it.
As bassist Nick Massi, Michael Ingersoll is the quiet, quixotic genius whose 11th hour show down with Tommy DeVito over personal hygiene remains a hoot and a half. And as composer Bob Gaudio, Gehling is utterly charming.
If ever there were a show that needs bull’s-eye performances night after night, this is it. That’s because as fantastic as the songs are, the book (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) is the worst kind of lame, comprised of pedestrian, connect-the-dots exposition that allows for only the broadest of character sketches. Without fully committed performers, the Jersey Boys would be as two-dimensional as the cartoon backdrop illustrations that augment the set.
But as “Jersey Boys” continues its second year, the crew is still in top form. As jukebox musicals go, this one seems unstoppable.