Doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll wooed a nearly sold out crowd at the Overture Center Friday night with the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys.” The musical, penned in part by University of Wisconsin alum Marshall Brickman and based on the career of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, brought depth and reality to what could have easily been just a string of hits. By the time the first of what felt like hundreds of F-bombs dropped, it became clear the show was more than just fluff: The show’s writers were willing to risk an appalled audience to honestly portray four guys from Jersey, potty mouths and all. As musicals sometimes do, “Jersey Boys” gets a little hokey and sometimes a little corny, but it was never dull and always engaging.
The show itself was divided into four “seasons,” each told by one of the original members. First up was “Spring,” where Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito told the story of how band got together. DeVito, as played by John Gardiner, is the man who recruits the then-impressionable teen Frankie Castelluccio into a world of music, women and criminal activity. Gardiner’s performance, easily the finest of the night, brought the charm of a seasoned con man when the mood was light and a palpable intensity during the dramatic moments.
In “Spring” we see Castelluccio, who has redubbed himself as Valli, played by Nick Cosgrove. In this season, Valli grows under DeVito’s big brother-like guidance, albeit crookedly, and meets his future wife, Mary Delgado. Delgado is played with stinging wit by Kara Tremel, and a more memorable scene features her telling Valli to spell his new name with an “I” because “Y is a bullshit letter.” “Spring” is laced with such solid song performances as “Earth Angel” and “You’re the Apple of My Eye,” but in “Summer” the biggest hits of the night come in, along with the introduction of The Four Seasons’ main song writer, Bob Gaudio, portrayed with humble grace by Miles Jacoby.
“Summer,” as told by Gaudio, begins the superstar rise of the group. Along with the experiences of fame, women and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the season includes performances of “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night),” “Sherry Baby” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” While “Summer” features the lighter pieces of the show, it was the turn to “Fall,” the shortest “season,” that proved to be the most thoughtful of the night.
“Fall” continues The Four Seasons’ story from the perspective of bassist Nick Massi, who is given the group’s share of comic one-liners throughout the show. Massi, performed this night by Adam Zelasko (who filled in for Michael Lomenda), is portrayed as the dim-witted one of the bunch, but Zelasko gave him heart underneath his Jersey crook-turned-superstar exterior. As the group succumbs to fame, Zelasko’s understated performance reminds the audience the characters are human and fallible.
Wrapping up the show, the season “Winter” is the story again from Frankie Valli’s point of view. The character of Valli is believable but obviously favored in the story, always held a little higher than the other characters. This is no fault of Cosgrove, who belts out the songs and hits those famous high notes with as much believability as possible, given the voice of the real Valli is one-of-a-kind. As a character, Valli is written from a fan’s perspective, doing right even when doing wrong, and while that may please the memories of the older audience, it takes credibility from other characters who, right or wrong, were there and were a part of it. However, this musical is a tribute, and tributes are there to put the best face on any situation, which “Jersey Boys” does impeccably. In the musical, the audience, from elderly to toddler, enjoyed every song, joke, fight and corny moment the boys from Jersey had to offer.
“Jersey Boys” runs Tuesday-Sunday until Nov. 25 with matinee performances weekends. Tickets start at $33.50. For more information, visit overturecenter.com.