Mirvish brings retro pop to the stage starring Canadian-born talent in this true-enough story of Jersey’s own Four Seasons.
Mirvish plays host to a bit of sweet nostalgic comfort with a limited run of Jersey Boys, performing at the Ed Mirvish theatre for the next two weeks.
This jukebox musical tells the story of the American 1960’s group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, delving into the previously-unknown history of the band members, particularly the scandals that surrounded their personal lives. Each member of the quartet takes a turn narrating events, with each their own version of how things really happened.
Taking a biographical approach and using unreliable narrators makes this show stand out from the typical jukebox-musical format in which an artist’s discography is set to a stand-alone (usually outlandish) story. Recent examples of such at Mirvish like Mamma Mia! and Bat out of Hell come to mind. Where a typical musical gives us insight about characters or moves the plot through song, here we gain insight into the social context of these famous tunes and what was going on in the group’s head at the time. (Mostly alcohol, testosterone, and a chip on their shoulder as blue-collar Italian-Americans).
Revealing the true (albeit distorted) story behind the band provides some friction that makes a palatable counter-point to the mushiness of the music and setting. The trouble is, the cast overall doesn’t feel committed to the dramatic tension or what’s at stake. Juxtaposing the boys’ criminal background with their cleaned-up crooner image on stage has a lot of potential as a source of drama (or comedy, depending on the performer) but here they stay safely in the middle of the road. Issues like gambling, divorce, drugs, and child death aren’t handled in a way that particularly shocks or brings tears to the eye, but there’s not quite enough humour to consistently carry the show’s feel-good vibe.
Audiences are meant to keep their eyes on the four stars almost at all times, which is reinforced by bold and minimalist staging. Known for their polished harmonies and synchronized choreography, the four band members have a lot to chew on but rise to the occasion fearlessly. Given how much the music demands of its singers, casting must emphasize how performers sound, especially together. Ontario-born Jonny Wexler, playing Frankie Valli, does an eerie imitation of Valli’s iconic falsetto, capturing not only the sound but the power and range behind it. Though overpowered by his co-stars in the first few scenes, he confidently embodies Frankie’s journey from a shy Jersey kid to a charismatic superstar.
Alongside Wexler, Corey Greenan as Tommy DeVito creates electric energy which carries the moments of behind-the-scenes bickering, and Greenan’s bombastic approach to his role luckily fills the stage on its own, but in general, the cast doesn’t seem fully engaged with the script nor comfortable with each other outside of the musical numbers, which is a shame given how witty the dialogue is.
In general, this production of Jersey Boys is a qualified success. While the music and stagecraft elements are full of life, ambition, and joy, most of the dialogue-driven scenes, even moments that have the potential to challenge our perspective, feel like the cast want to get it over with so they can go back to singing.
Having said all that, this is a show put on by people who know exactly what they excel at, and excel they do, with enthusiasm. I was humming hits from the band and toe-tapping during my entire ride home from the theatre.
- Jersey Boys is on at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) from until March 17, 2019
- Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, plus 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday and 1:30 matinees on Wednesdays
- Tickets can be purchased online, by calling 416-872-1212 or in-person at the box office.
- Run Time: 2 hours 40 minutes including intermission
- Audience Advisory: Use of strobe lights, theatrical smoke, gunshots, sexual themes, and strong “authentic Jersey” language. Ages 12 and up suggested.
Photo of cast L-R: Corey Greenan, Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, and Jonathan Cable, by Joan Marcus