'Jersey Boys': Always in season

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 28, 2012

By Mark Wineka
CHARLOTTE — Neil Young shouted it out on an album long ago: “Live music is better; bumper stickers should be issued.”
And so it is with “Jersey Boys,” the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons now playing at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater.
If you’re a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, you may not think you’re a devoted fan of the Four Seasons’ music, but you are, especially when it’s live and the driving force behind such a pulsating, rise-to-your feet, Tony Award-winning hit.
Back in the day, your tinny AM radio stations continuously played Four Seasons hits such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like Man” and “Rag Doll” until you couldn’t stand Valli’s falsetto voice any longer.
You didn’t realize those songs had become part of your DNA, forever imbedded in your brain’s iTunes storehouse.
Then, out of nowhere, “Jersey Boys” hits town and tells the singing group’s rag-doll-to-riches story through 30-plus numbers you can’t resist moving and singing along with.
“Hey,” you think, “I know these songs.”
Charlotte’s “Jersey Boys” brings all the talent and production qualities you’d find in New York — the kind that make theater-goers come back every time to see the 2006 “Best Musical.”
The performances of the Four Seasons singers themselves — Preston Truman Boyd as Bob Gaudio, Joseph Leo Bwarie as Frankie Valli, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi and John Gardiner as Tommy DeVito — make it impossible to choose a favorite.
They all stand out, and the story smartly gives each “Season” his showcase moments.
Jonathan Hadley, as lyricist-producer Bob Crewe, and Joseph Siravo, as mobster Gyp DeCarlo, also give outstanding performances in tying the narrative together.
The good news is, of course, that you can love the fast-paced “Jersey Boys” and its lightning set changes, even if you’ve never heard the music.
And you’ll learn some things. Who knew the song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” sprang from a slapping scene in a John Payne-Rhonda Fleming movie of the 1950s?
Or who could have guessed that actor Joe Pesci, a Jersey boy himself, deserves the credit for introducing Gaudio to the group — a meeting that changed the course of music history?
In “Jersey Boys” you gain an appreciation for what an important figure composer Gaudio was to pop music of his day. You also see how Gaudio’s friendship with Valli made their business partnership survive more than four decades on only a handshake.
But it comes down to the music — the live music — that consistently reminds you that these guys, these boys from Jersey, were good.
There, you said it.
Bumper stickers should be issued recommending “Jersey Boys” to all.
“Jersey Boys” has 14 more shows at the Belk Theater through March 11. Check the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s website (www.blumenthalarts.org) for ticket information.