Somebody left the fourth wall in Jersey. There’s nothing more annoying when you frequent theater than watching the characters constantly talking to you instead of to one another. Sure, one or two lines throughout the show is fine. But from the very first to the very last word? No thanks. It makes it difficult to become enveloped in the story.
That is the first thing that makes "Jersey Boys" so disappointing. From the moment the curtain went up, the narration (directly to the audience) began, and it basically never stopped.
It felt so contrived that it made it impossible to suspend one’s disbelief and let it ride. The fact that the actors’ performances felt like caricatures really didn’t help. The accents went too far. The falsettos went too high. The gestures got too clichéd.
I’ve been to Jersey. My mom’s from Jersey. It’s not that I don’t know Jersey. But Jersey is more than just accents and slick hair, and Frankie Valli is more than a high voice. Unfortunately Brad Weinstock’s portrayal was just that: a pitchy impersonation that relied too much on acting like Valli instead of embodying who he really was.
Quite simply, the show is boring unless you are obsessed with the era and the music but not offended by a less than stellar impression. The one truly bright spot in the show was Barry Anderson who plays Bob Crewe, the Four Seasons’ music producer. He is flamboyant and hilarious and true. He is fun to watch and I found myself waiting for him to return to the stage when he wasn’t there.
Perhaps the show’s biggest fail was the performance of the girl group The Angels. Maybe the lead singer was just having a bad night, but her performance was beyond disappointing - she looked and acted tired in the role, and when you’re paying today’s exorbitant rates for a seat, it’s not acceptable to watch a performance look like it’s being phoned in. To boot, all three girls could kick their energy into gear.
It’s a shame. The music is good stuff, classic stuff, fun stuff. But it was just too hard to enjoy it when the presentation fell so flat. And the story itself is good stuff too, interesting, inspiring and tragic as well. But it was hard to shed a tear even for a man’s dead daughter when the portrayal feels too plastic.
Perhaps there are just too many of these thinly veiled tribute concerts. If they’re going to be done, they have to be done carefully. They have to either have the kitsch and charm of "Mamma Mia" or the straightforwardness, the "I am a concert" feel of the Beatles tribute, "Rain."
Otherwise, the line of what is truly theater becomes too blurred and the offerings become too watered down. What we’ll be left with is not Broadway level theater, but rather poor excuses for theater that might sell tickets but that won’t fulfill the promise of what belongs on the stage.
Theater doesn’t have to be serious. It doesn’t have to all be Hamlet. But it does have to be substantive and it does have to be marked by a reason for being, a story to tell, and a talented cast. Great theater defies definition. It can be so many things.
Shows like "Jersey Boys" is not one of them.