Shows are still a bit few and far between for me right now. Honestly, it’s not affecting me like I thought it would but I was still super excited as I made my way downtown for Jersey Boys on Thursday night. Sure, it wasn’t a good ol’ fashioned rock show like what I typically do, but it was live, it was music, and it was just what I wanted.
I’ll admit, I was super unfamiliar with Jersey Boys as my boyfriend and I took our seats at the beautiful Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. I knew it was about music from the ’50s or something and that it had something to do with musicians from New Jersey but, beyond that, I was really going in blind. Even seeing the title of the playbill listing the musical as “The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons” really didn’t help me. The name was familiar but I honestly couldn’t have named a single song by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons prior to this musical. I don’t know if this hurt or helped my experience through the night but it definitely added a twist and it felt like I was staying true to myself what with my tendency to walk into shows completely blind– why should musicals be any different?
I was instantly struck by how simplistic the layout of the stage was throughout this musical. There really wasn’t much on stage other than a constant backdrop of stairs and a catwalk-like structure with a screen hanging from the single and showing pictures just above the catwalk. Although part of the reason I love musicals and the theater in general so much is how the set looks because I have this deep desire to work as a set designer at some point in my life, I loved how minimalistic everything was. I may not have known what the entire musical was about but I knew music was involved and knew that the lack of clutter on stage would give the music the spotlight.
The amount of vocal talent on stage was staggering and I feel like even that is an understatement. Frankie Valli had a super distinct voice and although I’m finding conflicting information on who performed as Frankie on Thursday night, whoever it was absolutely nailed it and then some. Hitting some of the highest of high notes with absolutely no struggle or hesitation, it was easy to start thinking that you were actually seeing Frankie Valli live. That goes for all four members of the group both the original men and ones that came in later on in the band’s career. I feel like everyone who graced that stage really embodied the time period and overall mood of the music scene at that time and I found it so easy to fall into their world.
Although I enjoyed the music throughout the performance, I found many parts of the musical to be a bit slow-moving or confusing. Maybe I was mentally checking out of some of the storyline in anticipation for the next track but there were times when I found myself trying to figure out who someone was on the stage. The barebone cast mixed with the barebone set design didn’t leave much to get distracted by yet there were points where I just could not focus. Even though some of the plot and story were lost on me, I didn’t miss out on a single song which I think says a lot about the vocal and musical power of everyone on the stage.
One major thing I would have changed about this production would be using live footage of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. There were a couple of scenes where the actors were portrayed as being filmed for TV shows and live performances complete with cameras being rolled onto the stage and then what those cameras were capturing being projected onto the screen above the catwalk. Although I loved this, I felt like it was a missed opportunity. I would have loved to see footage of the real Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons as I’m sure it’s out there and would have been a super cool way to show the comparison between the “real” band and the musicians we were watching and really highlight the talent on stage.
Even though this musical wasn’t my favorite, there were many moments that absolutely had my jaw on the floor. Sure, most of those were during the performances and just due to the sheer power and talent that I was bearing witness to but there was also a moment in the first act that made me want to jump out of my seat and start cheering. Although most of the performance the band is performing to the audience, there is one moment where it is shifted to where you just see the backs of the band and are blinded by the stage lights illuminating their figures. This only lasted for a minute or two but the effect it had on the audience was seriously enough to take your breath away. It made it feel as if you were part of this band’s rise to fame and all of the drama that came with it in such a stunning yet understated way.
I walked into Jersey Boys on Thursday night not knowing a thing about Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons but walked out feeling a bit like an expert on the band. Sure, the musical may have not been the most exciting production I’ve seen but the way it informed, entertained, and really just made you feel like you were living in a different time was more than enough for me.