Theater League’s Broadway in Santa Barbara kicks off its 2017-2018 season with the Tony Award–winning Jersey Boys at The Granada Theatre for a two-night engagement. The musical follows four young musicians — Frankie Valli (Jonny Wexler), Bob Gaudio (Tommaso Antico), Tommy DeVito (Corey Greenan), and Nick Massi (Chris Stevens) — as they grow their career as a doo-wop quartet from background vocal work to mega-selling mainstay of the airwaves as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. A jukebox musical (i.e., a musical that utilizes existing, popular songs), Jersey Boys features the band’s most memorable works in intricately arranged medleys to tell the incredible story of its humble roots and its rise to the top of the charts.
“He’s lived this crazy life,” said actor Jonny Wexler of his character. Wexler has been playing Frankie Valli for the last four years — more than 800 performances. “That’s what makes the piece so special. It’s this crazy rags-to-riches, improbable story of a bunch of guys from the wrong side of Jersey, who did this crazy thing. And the play is willing to show the darker side of their lives and their career, and what touring does to them …We show that life isn’t always this amazing ride … It’s a happy show, but in many ways, it’s also tragic.”
Over the course of the performance, audiences see the characters’ triumphs and tragedies, exemplified by the Four Seasons’ music. Within the narrative structure of the show, most of the music is performed within the context of the boys being in the recording studio or in performance, making Jersey Boys about more than four men thrust into the spotlight: It’s a musical that explores the business of creating pop music. “We don’t sing any songs, with a few exceptions, in their entirety,” said Wexler of the arrangement of the Jersey Boys score, adding that the tunes and the story serve each other in a complementary way. “They’re cut up and spliced together — it’s really ingenious.”
But even with truncated versions of the Four Seasons’ music, Jersey Boys’ Valli is an incredibly challenging role, especially given Valli’s notable, rangy falsetto. “It’s a lot of singing,” said Wexler. “Lots of singing every day to be ready for this three-hour marathon … [in musical theater] it’s unheard of for one person to sing lead on 35 songs.” After several years of embodying Valli, Wexler’s favorite show moments include singing the classic hit, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” “There’s nothing like singing ‘Can’t Take’ at the end of the show,” he said. “Not only is the song amazing, but the way they construct the story leading into the song is genius, and there’s nothing like it, with the horns behind you and everything.” He also admitted loving to see the audience during the performances, saying: “People grew up to this music; they had their first kiss to this music; their first school dance … [I] see people reliving those memories, which is special to be a part of.”
On the beautiful Granada stage, audiences will be treated to the big-musical spectacular of the Broadway show. Beyond the four leads, each of whom tells their version of events through the years, there’s a talented ensemble of characters that facilitates the drama in between the music — and joins in the show-stopping production numbers. As Wexler pointed out, Gaudio and Valli have done an impressive job of making their music recognizable all over the world, from commercials to movies to radio. Jersey Boys gives audiences a chance to hear the Four Seasons’ music in a concert-style context while also experiencing the drama and glory of their illustrious, multi-decade careers in the music industry.
Theater League’s Broadway in Santa Barbara presents the Tony Award–winning Jersey Boys Monday, November 27-Tuesday, November 28, 7:30 p.m., at The Granada Theatre. Call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.