Stays Just A Little Bit Longer
At The Ogunquit Playhouse
Even Better The Second Time Around
Though June 15
The Ogunquit Playhouse
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
The Ogunquit Playhouse closed out their 2018 season with the hit jukebox musical Jersey Boys, which played to sold out audiences for eight weeks. Building off of that success, OPH Artistic Director Brad Kenney chose to hang on to what they got and begin the 87th season where they left off.
I very much enjoyed Jersey Boys last August and gave it high praise. Settling in for this year’s return engagement, I planned on reliving that experience and looked forward to another great evening with the music and story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Well, it turns out I was in for a surprise. The great production I saw last year has been ramped up and matured. A new lighting system, some tweaking of the script, and the actors reprising their roles with more depth has taken the 2019 version of Jersey Boys to another level.
Matthew Amira, Andy Christopher, Matt Magnusson, and Jonathan Mousset playing Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Frankie Valli respectively dig down deeper into their characters. The story of the four boys from New Jersey who went on to record mega hits amid much drama in their relationship served as a solid narrative to support the great musical score. That narrative has now become a more integral part of the production as the personal aspects of their lives are brought out more powerfully. The result is a Jersey Boys that is nothing short of spectacular.
This enhancement of the story does not take away from the power of the musical numbers; in fact, it adds to them by stirring the emotions while leading into each song. Mr. Mousset’s amazing take on My Eyes Adored You coming off the scene where we see Frankie Valli’s marriage breaking up really tugs at the heart.
While standing ovations are not unusual, especially at the Ogunquit Playhouse, it is rare to see audiences jump to their feet during a performance. Both Sherry and Walk Like A Man had the crowd out of their seats cheering the performers on. I could see just how much this touched the members of the cast. One of the wonderful things about attending live theatre is getting to experience that symbiotic energy occurs between actors and the audience. In this case it was electrifying for both.
The boys went through a number of names for the group before settling on The Four Seasons and later, after a couple of them left, it became known as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. In Jersey Boys, each of the four originals is given the recognition they deserve.
Matt Magnusson plays Tommy DeVito, the bad boy who got the group going. A part time crook who had done time, he had that combination of daring and recklessness that it often takes to succeed in such a tough business. Mr. Magnusson captures his character with a Jersey accent and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. DeVito can drive you crazy but you can’t help but like him. He also serves as narrator for the first part of the play.
In contrast to DeVito is Bob Gaudio who was introduced to the group by Joe Pesci (Tommy Martinez), yes, that Joe Pesci. Andy Christopher takes on the role of the man who not only wrote the songs that put the group on the map, but also was able to use his keen head for business and making deals to get them heard. Mr. Christopher plays the part of Gaudio with the perfect balance of calmness and drive that helped make the group so well known.
Bass player Nick Massi describes himself as the Ringo of the quartet. Played by Matthew Amira, Massi is not left out. Mr. Amira gives a strong performance that is filled with humor and frustration. His description of rooming with Tommy DeVito is a riot.
And that brings us to Jonathan Mousset who is reprising the role of Frankie Valli from last year. As I said earlier, there is a deeper layer of emotion in the 2019 Jersey Boys, and Mr. Mousset really plumbs the part and gives us a Valli torn between driving for success and living up to his “Old School Values”. Along with his amazing falsetto voice, he shows fine acting chops and brought more than a few tears to the eyes of those in the audience on the evening I attended.
The entire cast is great, including Doug Storm who plays a number of roles including lyricist Bob Crewe. Storm comes close to stealing a few of the scenes with some well timed glances and asides. You might want to consult him about your horoscope. While Neal Benari as the gangster Gyp DeCarlo is the local Godfather type who helps the boys out of a few jams. The scene where he is brought to tears when he hears Frankie sing My Mother’s Eyes, is one of those touching comedic moments.
The new lighting system that has been installed at the playhouse is incredible. In the hands of lighting designer Richard Latta the effects are amazing. The use of spotlights and shadows is breathtaking. The scene recreating the evening the boys debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show is striking. Add in Choreography by Gerry McIntyre, Scenic Design by Adam Koch, and the work of Costume Designer Tristan Raines and this rivals anything you will see on Broadway. I also want to note that Ogunquit Playhouse productions are not touring companies, but are built from the ground up.
Director Holly-Anne Palmer has been with Jersey Boys from its inception and she clearly has lost none of her enthusiasm for it. She has upped her game with this run.
The music is still front and center with all of the hits plus more being performed powerfully, and the unique sound of the Four Seasons is captured perfectly. Dawn, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On, Stay, December ’63, along with some early 60s standards such as Short Shorts and Earth Angel. Caroline Iliff led Hillary Porter and Bailey Purvis in a smashing rendition of My Boyfriend’s Back complete with big hair and bobby sox. Music to feed the nostalgic soul.
Jonathan Mousset’s rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You is a classic show stopper. Seeing it performed after hearing the story of how it almost never got released is amazing. Hey, the entire show is amazing.
The 2019 Season at the Ogunquit Playhouse is off to a tremendous start. Tickets for last year’s performances of Jersey Boys sold fast. I would recommend you book your seats soon so you don’t miss out this year. If you’ve never seen Jersey Boys, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. If you have seen it, come back and be as surprised as I was at how a very good play can get even better . Oh! What a night it is!