JERSEY BOYS tells the story of the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. It maintains the plot’s varying metaphors by having each of the four members tell the “four seasons” of the band’s short-lived rise to fame. Tommy DeVito opens the show with how he got the group together; putting Frankie Valli in its middle. Along the way, Bob Gaudio, the band’s composer, speaks his piece when the band finally found their sound and their name. Soon after, every record was a hit and every song an overnight sensation, until the band got into trouble because of DeVito’s mob connections. This is when Nick Massi gradually takes the narrator’s hat to tell how the group fell apart. DeVito leaves the band, handing himself over to the “organization,” while Massi chooses to be with family instead. Now, Valli and Gaudio are left to continue on, sweating themselves to pay off DeVito’s debt, while delivering worldwide hits after another, and pursuing a life worth living by.
Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group presents this jukebox musical with the some of our finest talents and it delivers with satisfying gusto. To say that this is the best I’ve seen this year is an understatement. For someone who did well in YOUR FACE SOUNDS FAMILIAR, Nyoy Volante does not imitate Frankie Valli at all. Instead, he reinterprets Valli’s enigma and presents the Filipino audience with a stunning and spirited familiarity.
Niño Alejandro plays Nick Massi, the band’s silently confused member who doesn’t seem to care about fame and fortune. Alejandro starts off with just being the show’s background comic but along the way, his character slowly transforms into one of the central characters. As he shifts from an animated backdrop to a central narrator, Alejandro fully revamps to a buoyant persona, allowing him to showcase everything he can offer.
Christian Bautista’s Bob Gaudio proves to be charming at times, and his singing voice gathers much applause. Even his charm surpasses Peneyra’s set; but it can only do so much, and it is Markki Stroem who is the greatest revelation. Being Tommy DeVito who is arguably both the band’s heart and tragedy – Stroem delivers the character with matching versatility and presence. For someone who preferred his alternate in Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady the Musical, seeing him how he sways his audiences in this production is a surprise. He can sing, he can act, – and boy – he can make us laugh! Stroem proves himself as one of the show’s central gem, and that, I think, is already saying so much.
Director Bobby Garcia orchestrates Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s pounding libretto with sustained energy leaving each stunning scene behind with yet another more impressive spectacle. Faust Peneyra‘s ruggedly florid set blends so beautifully with Driscoll Otto’s occasionally coruscating lighting design. And did I mention that Otto paints this production’s stage with a spectacle of lights (and shadows, for that matter) that we seldom see in Philippine theater, or probably haven’t seen at all? See, as Otto paints everyday scenes with just the right amount of humid luminesce, he glosses each Four Seasons show with a spectacle of their own.
Almost everyone, even in this millennial generation, know at least a couple of Frankie Valli’s songs. Their music have survived for almost half a century, yet we never seem to know the people behind the music. Thus, Brickman and Elice have metaphorically placed JERSEY BOYS’ narratice within a year with four seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter). Each main cast takes over a “season,” making it look like a docu-musical about a group of famous musicians whose music we have always loved but never really got to know. From each narrator comes a relative perspective, which makes it somehow feel like Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON (1950) all over again. These differing testimonies from the band members make one question who’s saying the truth and who isn’t. But their recollections of the pasts seem to hold water in itself. In the end, we just rely on what each thinks is the most memorable part of their journey – thus completing a whole – eventually making the sum more than enough.
Besides, JERSEY BOYS isn’t just about the music nor its truths. It is also about Family. In the musical we see how the characters detach themselves from their own homes to build new ones. Tommy tries his best – almost sold his soul to the devil – to make this family work, and somewhat failed in the end. We watch how Nick realizes that his own family matters more than all the fame and the fortune. As Frankie who describes himself as “that bunny on TV who just keeps going and going..,” he continues on, paying off someone else’ debt, paying much along the way. And Bob? His unceasing loyalty and faith to Frankie’s talent proves how he can stand for a friend until the end.
Towards its end, Valli takes the narration to ask himself what the “high point” was. All throughout this scene, he recalls everything they have gone through – the fame, its glories and the tragedies the came along with it. In the end, he whispers to his audience that the best part of it all was when they were but young kids “under a street lamp” at a time when everything else seemed just ahead of them. For me, it’s like CITIZEN KANE’s (1941) emblematic “Rosebud,” or Gatsby’s “green light at the pier’s end.” It is that yearning we grown-ups have learned to suppress through the years, which at one point or the other has been silently pulling us back to remember and celebrate.
And that’s what makes JERSEY BOYS ultimately rewarding.
PS. Don’t miss this show. Treat yourself. And if possible, get the best seat available. You’re in for one of the best treats in Philippine Theater this season.