Thirteen years ago, “Jersey Boys” was born at La Jolla Playhouse and went straight to Broadway, where it prospered in a 12-year run that finally concluded in January.
Now, the musical biography of The Four Seasons vocal group is back home again in the latest national tour that plays through Sunday at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Every time “Jersey Boys” visits San Diego - the last was 2014 - it feels tighter, funnier and more sleek. It motors along with the well-oiled precision of the Cadillac that Frankie Valli earned after the group hit it big in the early 1960s. Very little in the book and score have changed since its La Jolla premiere, but there are nuances - meatier roles for women, flashier performances in secondary roles and more multilayered musicianship.
In this year’s tour, which arrived in town Tuesday, not only do three of the Four Seasons plays their own instruments, so do most of the rest of the 19-member cast. One actor sings, raps, acts and toots a trombone in the Four Seasons’ onstage horn section. Tour director Des McAnuff, who originated the show as then-artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, once said the hardest part of casting “Jersey Boys” isn’t finding a diminutive falsetto-voice tenor to play Frankie. It’s much tougher, he said, finding triple-threat performers who can harmonize vocally, dance and play their own instruments as the Seasons.
When: 7:30 p.m. May 11. 8 p.m. May 12. 2 and 8 p.m. May 13. 1 and 6 p.m. May 14.
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown
Tickets: About $42-$160 (plus fees)
For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s the gritty rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of 1960s/'70s vocal quartet that formed in 1956 on the mean streets of Newark, N.J. The band, led by hoodlum-turned-bandleader Tommy DeVito, struggled until he and bassist/arranger Nick Massi found teen singer Frankie Valli and songwriter/keyboardist Bob Gaudio.
In 1962, the group soared to the top of the charts with first “Sherry,” then “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” But just three years later, the group split when DeVito was pushed out for financial improprieties and Massi quit. The musical then follows Valli’s resurgence as a solo artist.
The story’s ingenious book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is divided into four seasons (beginning with spring), each narrated by a different member telling the band’s story from his perspective.
As Frankie, Aaron De Jesus re-creates Valli’s ear-rattling high notes but adds some surprising dance moves. Cory Jeacoma has an upbeat, boyish freshness and strong singing ability as Bob Gaudio, whose lifelong friendship and business agreement with Valli was sealed with a handshake.
Matthew Dailey carries off the wise guy bluster of Tommy, and the funny, monotone Keith Hines steals most of his scenes as Nick, the self-described “Ringo” of the quartet.
There’s also nice support work from Barry Anderson as the group’s flamboyant producer Bob Crewe, Thomas Fiscella as gangster Gyp DeCarlo and Jonny Wexler as “Joey,” the exuberant agent-in-training who went on to Oscar-winning stardom (Joe Pesci). Not all of the voices in the ensemble are ear-pleasing and on Wednesday night, sound issues made some singers sound especially shrill.
The production looks sharp, particularly the new projections by Michael Clark.
“Jersey Boys,” which won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical, is a good ride. But show newbies should come prepared for a smorgasbord of curse words. These are New Jersey boys, after all.
“Jersey Boys” may be gone from Broadway, but it will live on in a North American tour that’s booked through mid-2018, as well as follow-up tours that hit the road next year in the U.K. and Australia.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @pamkragen