Last call for 'Jersey Boys' in San Diego?

Des McAnuff still laughs when he recalls what the writer Marshall Brickman once said of "Jersey Boys": "If it were about four physicists, there wouldn't be any songs."

That remark gets to the heart of what McAnuff, who shepherded "Jersey Boys" from La Jolla Playhouse to massive Broadway success beginning more than a decade ago now, has always believed is a big reason for the show's appeal.

In contrast to more conventional jukebox musicals, which often concoct some fictional narrative out of existing songs, "we had the happy challenge of simply telling the story of the group that actually sang the songs," the director says of the show about the hit-making band The Four Seasons.

"I think that's what really had the impact, a little, on the form."

And yet, McAnuff adds: "At the end of the day, I think it's about whether something's good or not."

By just about any measure, "Jersey Boys" - whose latest national tour arrives at the San Diego Civic Theatre next week (courtesy of presenter Broadway/San Diego) - passes that test.

The show was good enough to run on Broadway for nearly 12 years; good enough to have grossed more than $2 billion globally; good enough to have won the coveted best-musical Tony Award and to hit the big screen as a Clint Eastwood-directed movie.

Maybe even good enough, McAnuff can't help but think now, to have lasted a bit longer in New York, if it'd had a chance.

"Jersey Boys"

When: Opens May 9. 7 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday. Through May 14.

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown

Tickets: About $36-$136 (plus fees)

Phone: 619.570.1100

Online: broadwaysd.com

When the production finally closed in January, "we did a great big party afterward, with a beautiful view of Broadway - we were in one of the restaurants up high," McAnuff recalls, chatting by phone from New York. "I remember discussing with a couple of friends what an incredible privilege it is to do what we do. To be right in the middle of all that.

McAnuff still laughs when he recalls what the writer Marshall Brickman once said of "Jersey Boys": "If it were about four physicists, there wouldn't be any songs."

That remark gets to the heart of what McAnuff, who shepherded "Jersey Boys" from La Jolla Playhouse to massive Broadway success beginning more than a decade ago now, has always believed is a big reason for the show's appeal.

In contrast to more conventional jukebox musicals, which often concoct some fictional narrative out of existing songs, "we had the happy challenge of simply telling the story of the group that actually sang the songs," the director says of the show about the hit-making band The Four Seasons.

"I think that's what really had the impact, a little, on the form."

"And of course we were coming off a week where, not to talk about numbers, but I think we did $1.8 million. To do that after 12 years is pretty remarkable. And we were doing that fantastic business all through that period. So it was great to go out with a bang.

"And there was a little part of me that was going, 'Why are we closing? All these people want to see it!'

"That was the only bittersweet part of it, really. The rest was all sugar."

'Boys' by the numbers

Number of Tony Awards (2006): Four, including best musical, out of eight nominations.

Rank on list of longest-running Broadway shows: No. 12, with 4,642 performances from its opening on Nov. 6, 2005, to its closing on Jan. 15, 2017.

Currently announced/planned productions: U.S. national tour (through June 2018); second U.K. tour begins in December 2017.

Number of actors who played Four Seasons leader Frankie Valli in the Broadway production: 14, starting with John Lloyd Young. (David Noroña originated the role at La Jolla Playhouse.)

Number of tour visits to San Diego: 3 (counting upcoming production).

Now, as "Jersey Boys" returns to the city of its birth for the third time (and the first since 2014), it could be the last chance for San Diegans to see the show for quite a while.

"Jersey Boys," co-written by Oscar-winner Brickman ("Annie Hall") and Broadway veteran Rick Elice ("Peter and the Starcatcher"), tells the true story of the Four Seasons' rough ride from the streets of Newark to fame and fortune, with plenty of friction along the way.

The show takes in all of the group's big hits, distinguished in their original versions by lead singer Frankie Valli's signature falsetto: "Sherry" "Big Girls Don't Cry" "Walk Like A Man" "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" "December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)" and more.

McAnuff was in his second stint as Playhouse artistic director - having revived the theater in 1983 and then taken a detour into the movie world - when he staged the show's world premiere in late 2004.

It proved a natural fit: Not only was McAnuff an accomplished musician whose previous directorial credits included the hit Playhouse-bred rock musical "The Who's Tommy," but the first album he ever bought as a kid was a Four Seasons LP.

The show's huge success further burnished McAnuff's place as one of Broadway's top directors (he had previously won Tonys for directing "Big River" and "Tommy"), and it also proved a boon to the Playhouse, both in terms of exposure and a stream of healthy royalties.

Now, even as the "Jersey Boys" phenomenon seems to be winding down, McAnuff stays closely involved in casting and other elements of the tour.

He also insists this is likely far from the last we'll be hearing about the show.

"This is maybe to some extent wishful thinking, and I can't really provide you with any detail, but I know there's more being talked about," he says. "I can think of three other incarnations that are being quite seriously talked about.

"So I guess I feel as though I'm still in it, and that we continue to adapt it and change it.

"But obviously whatever happens from this point forward, it's been a fabulous ride. And I'm thrilled at what it has done for all of us - and particularly for the Playhouse, because it has helped generate so much other work.

"That's been a terrific bonus."

Still, he adds, "I think you're quite right - I think it might be the last chance if people have not caught up with the tour, for those who love the show, to see it in San Diego. I don't know how often the tour will go around.

"I would encourage people to see this, because it's awfully good."

Looking back

"Jersey Boys" had its world premiere at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse in October 2004. Here's what some of the people behind the show had to say about it to the U-T before the opening:

"It is a little strange. You'd always feel better if it weren't about your life. But that's the way it is. It feels funny, but it feels good - to think and know you've made an impact on people that somebody takes an interest in, and wants to put millions of dollars into a production."

- Four Seasons leader Frankie Valli

"For Frankie Valli to say, 'Sure, make me into a character in a musical,' is very brave, I think. We're showing these guys warts and all. This is not a puff piece. This is a real gritty modern allegory."

- Co-writer Rick Elice

"I've always seen these ads that say, 'Based on a true story.' I've never seen one that says, 'Based on a good story.' That's a title I'd like to see more. This one is both."

- Co-writer Marshall Brickman

Local lights

San Diego-bred Christian Hoff, who began acting at San Diego Junior Theatre at the age of 8, originated the "Jersey Boys" role of Tommy DeVito at La Jolla Playhouse and played it from 2005 to 2008 on Broadway, winning a Tony Award. He still lives in San Diego County - in Valley Center.

And San Diego native Taylor Peckham - a singer-actor-keyboardist and star of numerous shows around town - is serving as musical director and conductor on the current "Jersey Boys" tour.

Did you know?

Among the investors in the Broadway production of "Jersey Boys" was Donna Summer, the late "Queen of Disco" who was a friend of Four Seasons songwriter-keyboardist Bob Gaudio. Now, Summer is the subject of a world-premiere musical that "Jersey Boys" director Des McAnuff is staging at La Jolla Playhouse this fall.
Twitter: @jimhebertjim.hebert@sduniontribune.com

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