Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jersey Boys Again

I may have written something here when I saw Jersey Boys in Washington on tour.  At the time, I was pleasantly surprised, having gone to the National Theater with low expectations. The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was just enough of a plot to carry all the fabulous musical numbers. You also had the feeling that you were right there with the performers in whatever venue they were on stage, much as the Broadway production of Master Class some years ago re-created Callas singing in La Scala.

It permitted me along with much of the rest of the audience to walk out of the theater humming, in this case, quite familiar rather than new-found tunes.  Last night I saw the new movie of the same name in a perfect venue, the wonderful Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park, DC.  It was fun, and for the most part, moved well, but it didn't strike me that it was as well-assembled as the stage show had been.

Now we are not as willing to accept the scrubbed scenes in movie musicals the way we were when such classics as Singin' in the Rain were appeared. Director (and producer) Clint Eastwood seemed to have unbelievably stagey sets for even locations in not-so-pristine locales, such as, well, New Jersey, and downtown New York too, for that matter. The story did take too long getting going, until it takes off when the group finally encounters Bob Crewe, who will be their producer and songwriting support for group composer and singer Bob Gaudio, for the first time in the Brill Building.

Crewe, incidentally, didn't come off half so swish in the show as he does in the picture.  A point for accuracy here, I presume. The two best acting jobs are turned in by the amazing Christopher Walken as the reigning Mafia don, and Vincent Piazza as the least-talented member of the group but the most assertive and ultimately failed leader. John Lloyd Young was Frankie in several of the stage companies--possibly the original--and he's passable. In that the songs themselves are the original recordings, I believe, it's hard to tell how much his singing falsetto is truly at the level of the real Frankie.

So once again a movie has opened up a stage show, and I for one found that the result was all right but didn't generate for me the excitement of the live performance.  I haven't seen all that many of these "music musicals" but did take in Million Dollar Quartet last year, I believe, on Broadway. This thinly-plotted vehicle drew on one real day when Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins happened to turn up at Sam Phillips's Sun Records studio in Nashville. The plot focuse on how all of them, including Sam, was figuring on where their next main chance would come from and how they would seize it.

In the end, this show was mainly a vehicle for the music and at the end of the show, the music went on past the finale for quite some time. I'm not sure of the other similar shows but I still favor some more of a play in the theater and when we get to the movies, alas, the flimsiness of the plot may detract from even as musically delightful an outing as Jersey Boys.

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