By Bridgette M. Redman
“Jersey Boys” is a deceptively challenging musical. It spins a captivating storyline straight out of the memories of the four original members of “The Four Seasons.” It is chock full of the songs that helped define an entire genre of American musical history. It is so well crafted and filled with robust material that it is almost a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
All of which can belie the fact that it is still a very difficult musical to perform and one that relies heavily on the ability of the lead actor to reproduce a voice whose distinctive characteristics made him stand out as nearly unique. The actor playing Frankie Valli must find that perfect blend of falsetto, slight nasal quality and the Jersey accent that captures the memory and imagination of the audience.
In the second national tour that is traveling through Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Brad Weinstock was unable to achieve that delicate balance. The nasal quality in his voice overpowered the other elements making it the defining characteristic, and sparking audience laughter at the sound in spots where little humor was intended. It also sapped the strength of typically show-stopping ballads, making them difficult to listen to as they lacked the moving beauty that had those songs soaring to the top of the charts.
The main foursome, Weinstock as Frankie, Brandon Andrus as Nick Massi, Colby Foytik as Tommy DeVito and Jason Kappus as Bob Guido manage to capture much of what makes “Jersey Boys” a great musical. They are fine dancers and have great energy throughout the show. They bring a wry sense of humor and avoid the cheap temptation of mugging. They’re great storytellers throughout most of the musical, and make strong connections with each other that make the challenges that beset them more meaningful and emotional.
Yet, there were many moments in the Thursday night performance that were off and lacked the necessary punch. This was especially true in the final scene of act one where a big reveal of a plot point was greeted with disgust rather than shock and made for a weak light-out moment.
Likewise, “Cry for Me” didn’t foreshadow the eventual break in Tommy’s absolute hold over the group. The conflict between the love for the music and the need to be in control was downplayed in the subtext and given only lip service to the words in the script. It was also odd to see them in a jam session around the piano with no one at the drum set, but the percussion line being a very prominent part of the music being heard.
One strong point in the cast was Barry Anderson’s Bob Crewe. His physicality and vocal affectations were in a beautiful harmony that told as much of the story as his words did. He embodied the character in a fashion that was entertaining while creating the environment that the Jersey boys lived.
Many of the supporting characters added the necessary color to create the world around the four Jersey boys. Christopher Messina, who doubles as the dance captain, brought a squirrelly energy to the role of Joey.
The three women in the cast were wonderful actors who played a wide range of characters, each with their own depth and differences. Kaleigh Cronin’s Miss Frankie Nolan, Natalie Gallo’s Mary Delgado and Ruby Lewis’ Francine were all nuanced and interesting in the short time they had on stage. They were strongest as actors and weakest in their singing ability as The Angels. They made a pretty picture and were capable dancers in “My Boyfriend’s Back,” but the music lacked in vocal strength.
This second national tour provides a scaled-down version of the musical hit that earned encores around the nation. It is a working-class, glamour-free version of the superstar that gets the job done and pleases the audience without worrying about wowing them.
Miller Auditorium, 2200 Auditorium Dr., Kalamazoo. Tuesday-Sunday through April 1. $28-62. 269-387-2312. http://www.millerauditorium.com