Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jersey Boys (Atlantis Theatrical)

60’s. A trio from Jersey finds a new member in the person of Francesco Castelluccio (Nyoy Volante), later more popularly known as the great Frankie Valli. His unusually high falsetto makes him the de facto choice as lead singer of the ensemble, whose current incarnation goes by the name of the Four Seasons. Tommy DeVito (Markki Stroem) serves as the headstrong leader, getting them gigs left and right and taking care of everything financial, regardless the cost. Nick Massi (Nino Alejandro) is the bass player, that one fellow meant to be outshined by the rest, or as he would like to put it: “the Ringo of the group.” With the original fourth bandmate sent away to prison for petty crimes, the remaining three enlist the help of Bob Gaudio (Christian Bautista), the one hit wonder from New York who will end up writing most of their hits. The plot unfolds with each of them alternating in the narration of their meteoric rise, as well as their eventual fall, with their respective points of view and each season representing the band’s status at that very moment.

My knowledge of Frankie Valli’s discography is limited to My Eyes Adored You, so I don’t really consider myself to have come to see the show because I belong to his fandom. All I know of the storyline is that there are four men from Jersey who banded together to form a group, perhaps a 60’s version of the Backstreet Boys or something, even though the sound and style greatly differ. At the crux of the musical is an autobiographical take on Valli’s life, a great majority of which has been spent under the spotlight with his group, The Four Seasons. You don’t have to be in a boyband to relate to what is happening, really. In the end, it’s the typical showbiz story: that of perseverance, success, and survival in general.

My recollection of My Eyes Adored You in my head is rather tarnished by the many cover versions that came after it, which is why I can’t remember if Valli’s voice is indeed THAT high as Volante makes it sound. In this case, it is better to trust audience impact, especially if that very audience is predominantly made up of elders who grew up during that period. Based on the enthusiastic round of applause coming from the crowd every time a song number is concluded, it should be enough proof that the portrayal must have been spot-on. Add the harmony of four distinct voices crooning together and what you get is a night full of wonderful music. Music in the 60’s just had this unique appeal definitive of a bygone era. Experiencing it in an intimate venue is a good way of reliving a musical epoch you never had the chance of getting to know, unfortunately.

Stroem has gone a long way since his reality show beginnings. As the cocky DeVito, he embodies the archetypal boyband prick, the destructive one that drags the group down as easily as he raised them up. His accent is consistent, and his singing is not bad at all, although that’s a non-issue when you are performing next to a believable onstage incarnation of Frankie Valli. This is why it is important that he stands out by virtue of his acting, in which he succeeds. The same can be said of Bautista, although his is more of the other way around. His voice is not as distinct as that of Volante, but powerful enough not to be drowned in the background. His accent is a little bit dodgy but tolerable, and he seems more comfortable onstage now than he was back then, circa West Side Story. Alejandro offers a convincing portrayal of the unappreciated bandmate, which is ironic because both actor and character ended up suffering the same fate. But then again, they are not the stars of the show, and they are totally aware of that.

Unlike other musicals tackling popular groups and their songs such as Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys differs because of the autobiographical aspect. We witness the band’s formation, their ups and downs, their trip to the top, as well as their subsequent parting. Because of this, most of the songs are not performed as imagined scenarios, a la Chicago, for instance. Here, they sing because they are performing onstage. They perform because they are having a concert, or guesting on a TV show live. The experience feels like a musical mockumentary of sorts, with the drama amped up a bit to give it the necessary emotional punch, yet still managing to retain a concert-like quality that you'd definitely enjoy.

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