Oh, What a Night!!

Four guys from New Jersey form one of the most successful musical groups of the 1960s.  This is the story of The Four Seasons.  This is Jersey Boys and it is currently playing at Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre.

Few things thrill me more than walking out of a theatre and knowing that I’ve seen something truly special.  This show didn’t just hit a home run.  It hit an out of the park, ball leaving my scope of vision home run.

While I am familiar with the music of the Four Seasons, I was unfamiliar with their personal story.  And what a story!  The Four Seasons were no saints.  Petty crime, infidelities, family struggles, tax issues, group strife, debt to the wrong people were just some of the problems plaguing the group.  Aside from their gripping story, I even learned there truly is a difference between The Four Seasons and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice do an incredible job sharing this fascinating tale as each of the Four Seasons presents his own viewpoint on what went on in the group and shows the powerful influence of perception.  Throw in the group’s legendary hits and you’ve got a compelling show from start to finish.

The entire ensemble did a superlative job.  Each was always in the moment and really fleshed out the little world of the musical.  Some of the outstanding performances featured were supplied by Grace Bobber who is a combustible fireball as Valli’s first wife, Mary Delgado.  Steve Isom is a force as fixer, Gyp DeCarlo.  Lauren Echausse has some diverse turns as the lead singer of the Angels whose impressive pipes are matched by her dimwittedness and a sweet turn as Valli’s lover, Lorraine.  Anthony De Marte provides some levity as Joe Pesci (yes, THAT Joe Pesci) who played a key role in the formation of the Four Seasons. 

I was stunned to learn that this was Michael Ingersoll’s directing debut as he has the poise and polish of a director with numerous shows under his belt.  The energy of this show is relentless.  It starts at a fever pitch and just gets higher, pulling the audience in deeper and deeper.  His knowledge of the beats is spot on and he knew how to emphasize each crucial moment with proper setup, tension, and resolution. Ingersoll guided his actors to top quality performances with well defined interpretations and precision pacing and cue pickups.

Depending on one’s point of view, Ryan Williams’ Tommy DeVito is either the guy you hate to love or the guy you love to hate.  Williams just oozes confidence and charm as the founder of the Four Seasons.  DeVito is a lovable scoundrel and con artist and it’s hard to separate the truth from his bull because it is so finely blended together.  He claims to have watched over the group as a big brother and handled the seedier sides of show business during their salad days and there probably was some truth to that.  But he can also be a real prick and the way he rubs the others the wrong way and his own personal financial troubles nearly sink the group at their peak.  Williams deftly portrays all sides of DeVito’s complex personality getting you to despise, respect, or even be amused by him at his discretion.

Jason Michael Evans is an ideal Nick Massi.  At one point, Evans’ Massi compares himself to Ringo Starr and there is a lot of truth to that.  According to Evans’ interpretation, Massi was the most easygoing member of the group and his gift for harmony was equal to Starr’s gift for rhythm due to its intense precision.  Evans also brings a real depth to Massi with his being uncomfortable with success as its stress leads him to drink and the temptations of the road inspire him to screw around on his family.  Eventually the weight of the business forces Massi to make a life altering decision and Evans handles that moment with a gracefully understated honesty.

Bob Gaudio is to The Four Seasons what Pete Townshend is to The Who.  Gaudio was the genius songwriter of the group and already had a major hit at the age of 15 with “Short Shorts” before he joined The Four Seasons.  Erik Keiser is a sheer joy in the role as he plays Gaudio with a wise beyond his years vibe and keen intelligence.  Keiser’s Gaudio is nobody’s fool given how he negotiates his way into the group as an equal partner and never loses sight of the business aspect of music.  What I liked best about Keiser’s take is that he is fully aware of his role in the group’s rise, but isn’t arrogant about it.  It was just the truth. 

Courter Simmons is gold in the role of Frankie Valli.  Valli has the most distinctive falsetto in pop music and is instantly recognizable.  When I closed my eyes during Simmons’ singing, I would swear it was Valli himself singing as Simmons perfectly emulates Valli’s falsetto and singing style.  Simmons’ singing is well matched by his acting and he does beautiful work with Valli’s arc.  Evolving from the shy teenager whom DeVito wrangles into the group to the strong, confident leader who never forgets family.  Simmons skillfully handles the more dramatic moments of Valli’s life from his fractured relationships with his first wife and youngest daughter to dealing with the implosion of the original Four Seasons.

Brett Kristofferson and his band were so subtle and skillful that it took me until the end of the first act to realize that the actors weren’t playing their own instruments.  His music direction is spot on as the four principals nail the iconic songs to the floor and are always in perfect harmony.  Courtney Oliver’s choreography is exactly what’s needed for the show.  There aren’t any flashy dance numbers, just the well-organized movements of the singers as they perform, though she gets a wonderful big moment in the curtain call.  Ryan J. Ziringibl has designed a simple set of stairs, walls, and fence, but it is quite effective as it allows furniture to roll in and out to change the scenes.  Jonathan A. Reed’s lights greatly enhance the story from making you feel you’re at a concert or club to a fine moment when you see the group performing from a backstage point of view and his stage lights fuel that illusion.  Garth Dunbar’s costumes bring you back in time with the perfect suits and dresses from the late 50s to the late 60s.  Jon Robertson’s sounds help bolster the show and keep it in fine form.

This is an excellent show and I highly encourage you to grab a ticket while you can because they are selling like hotcakes.  For myself, this show was a superior introduction to Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre and I look forward to my inevitable return.

Jersey Boys plays at Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre through July 3.  Showtimes are 2pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and 2pm and 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Tickets cost $46 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.lyceumtheatre.org, calling 660-837-3311, or visiting Wood & Huston Bank in Marshall, MO where single tickets can be purchased from Michelle England from 9am-3pm Mon-Fri.  Due to some of the subject matter, parental discretion is advised for this show.  Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre is located at 114 High Street in Arrow Rock, MO.

Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre Presents ‘Jersey Boys’

Arrow Rock, MO–With phenomenal music, memorable characters, and great storytelling, Jersey Boys follows the fascinating evolution of four blue-collar kids who became one of the greatest successes in pop-music history. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical, Jersey Boys takes you behind the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons to discover the secret of a 40-year friendship as the foursome work their way from the streets of New Jersey to the heights of stardom. You will be thrilled by electrifying performances of chart-topping hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Dawn,” and “My Eyes Adored You.”

Tickets range from $20-$46 and can be purchased at www.lyceumtheatre.org or calling the Box Office at 660-837-3311. Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre is located at 114 High Street in Arrow Rock, MO.

Performance Dates
Thursday, 06/23/22 – 7:30 pm
Friday, 06/24/22 – 2:00 pm
Friday, 06/24/22 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, 06/25/22 – 2:00 pm
Saturday, 06/25/22 – 7:30 pm
Sunday, 06/26/22 – 2:00 pm
Wednesday, 06/29/22 – 2:00 pm
Thursday, 06/30/22 – 2:00 pm
Friday, 07/01/22 – 2:00 pm
Friday, 07/01/22 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, 07/02/22 – 2:00 pm
Saturday, 07/02/22 – 7:30 pm
Sunday, 07/03/22 – 2:00 pm

Directed by: Michael Ingersoll

Cast

Courter Simmons as Frankie Valli
Erik Keiser as Bob Gaudio
Jason Michael Evans as Nick Massi
Ryan Williams as Tommy DeVito
Corey Barrow as Barry Belson
Grace Bobber as Mary Delgado
Anthony de Marte as Joey
Lauren Echausse as Lorraine
Christian Fary as Charlie
Steven Gagliano as Joe
Steve Isom as Gyp DeCarlo
Perry Ojeda as Norm Waxman
Joseph Oliveri as Hank
Rebecca Russell as Francine
Jeffrey C. Wolfe as Bob Crewe

Rivercene Plantation: A Most Mysterious Mansion

Rivercene Plantation

Rivercene Plantation

I started this project to share the incredible tales of inns and their towns, but I think I am going to be hard pressed to find a tale to match that woven by Rivercene Plantation, owned by Donn Upp and Dr. Joe Ely.

It was an atypically warm day in February as I answered the call of the road which would be bringing me to the dual cities of New Franklin and Boonville.  New Franklin is the home of Rivercene Plantation while Boonville (a mere 500 feet away) is a historical town of forgotten significance.

I actually made it into the region much earlier than planned due to basing my drive time on Mapquest’s estimates.  I’ve concluded that Mapquest estimates are clearly made by someone who drives about 30 miles under the limit.  In any event, I puzzled over how to spend my extra time and passed a sign suggesting I visit historic Blackwater.  Why not?

So I made my unexpected side trip and passed through the microscopic town (the population is only 199) and noted that it did have the feel of a bygone era.  The main drag actually seems more like an old west town.  I quickly said hello and good-bye to historic Blackwater and made my way to the historic site of Arrow Rock.

Now I was expecting Arrow Rock to be, well, a rock.  In actuality, it is a pioneer village covering about a mile and a half.  Tours are actually available, but are very limited during the winter months.  But I was able to amuse myself with a little jaunt around the village, snapping a photo here and there until it was nearly time to check in to Rivercene.

As I said earlier, Rivercene Plantation is a hop, skip, and jump from the town of Boonville and is located just beyond the Boonslick Bridge which crosses the mighty Missouri River.  The mansion, itself, is on a very secluded acreage.  I bounded up the stairs and turned the old fashioned doorbell key and was soon greeted by Donn Upp.

Donn is not only one of the owners of the mansion, but he is also an author of horror novels.  He is also, without question, one of the most energetic people I have ever met and a raconteur par excellence.  Donn led me up to Cora’s Room which would serve as my base of operations for the next couple of days.  I was floored by the sheer massiveness of the room.  Easily, the largest room I have ever stayed in.  For an avid reader like myself, I especially appreciated the sitting area by the gas fireplace.

Cora's Room.

Cora’s Room.

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After being left to my own devices, I quickly settled in and discovered a history of the mansion in my room.  And, trust me, this mansion is chock full of history.  The house was paid for by Matilda Clarke Kinney, the second wife of Captain Joseph Kinney (founder of Kinney’s Shoes and a steamboat magnate) after her husband gave her a wedding gift of $50,000 to build her dream home.  Construction of the house began in 1864 and would be completed in 1869.  Rivercene Plantation served as the Kinney’s summer home until Captain Kinney’s retirement, at which point they relocated to the mansion permanently.

Aside from the history of the mansion, the folder also contained Donn’s story of how he became the owner of Rivercene and the many ideas he has for the place over the coming years.  One of his most intriguing plans is what he calls Ridgecliffe Manor.

Ridgecliffe Manor (set to begin in 2016) is going to be a mystery event unlike any other.  Essentially, the guests are going to get to live one of Donn’s novels and the groundwork is actually going to begin next month with YouTube videos, a Facebook page, and a website.  Characters will be introduced and people can get to know the story before getting dropped into the middle of it with Ridgecliffe Manor.  From listening to Donn, Ridgecliffe Manor sounds like it will be a combination of interactive theatre and a top flight Hollywood production and I will certainly do my best to attend one of those events.

Speaking of mysteries, Rivercene Plantation has an unsolved mystery of its own.  In 1895, Nobel Kinney, the son of Joseph and Matilda, died under mysterious circumstances when he fell over the second floor balcony and landed on the 8th and 9th steps of the main staircase.  The truth of what happened never left the house.  Nobel was the favored child of Matilda who mourned herself to death over the next year.

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The mystery of that night hangs over the inn to this day.  When Donn and Joe were preparing Nobel’s room to be rented out, strange things happened from the start.  The shower would spontaneously turn off and on.  Temperatures would go from one extreme to the other.  Donn said there was a sensation that nobody was allowed to use that room.  The room is not available for rent.

The home has been visited by paranormal investigators who say that the place is a hotbed for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).  So if you are into ghost chasing, chances are you’ll want to visit this place and Donn will have some stories for you.

After Donn’s tour, I made the walk into Boonville to do a little exploring and then decided to get some dinner.  I had read of a restaurant called the 87 Diner which claimed to have “The Best Darn Cooking in the County”.  Well, I certainly had to put that to the test.

I arrived at the diner and it was packed!!  That certainly seemed to be a testament to the cooking.  I managed to find a table in the corner and was soon presented with a menu.  Nothing flashy.  Just good old fashioned comfort food.  I went for a turkey club and got it in an amazingly short amount of time considering how busy things were.

I can officially say there is some credence to the 87 Diner’s claims.  This was the best club sandwich I had ever eaten.  The bread was toasted just right, the bacon was firm, but chewy, and the turkey was the freshest I think I have ever tasted.  Definitely get a meal here.

I returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the evening organizing photos and enjoying the adventures of Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman burglar, Arsene Lupin, on my Kindle.

After a good night’s sleep I made my way downstairs to breakfast and met the other owner and chef, Dr. Joe Ely.  It was a fabulous meal due to both food and the company.  The inn was fully booked, so there was a large group to converse with and the food couldn’t have been better.  Mixed fruit, pecan cinnamon rolls, and a breakfast casserole fleshed out this excellent repast.  After 2 hours and buoyed by a good meal, I headed outside to begin a historical walking tour of Boonville.

The Grand Dining Room

The Grand Dining Room

As I’ve said, Boonville is a city of forgotten historical significance.  The Civil War plays a big role in Boonville’s history.  Heck, one battle was fought in the front yard of Rivercene Plantation.  The city is loaded with historical buildings such as the famed Kemper Military School which became defunct back in 2002.  Part of the campus has now been transformed into State Fair Community College.

Do you enjoy being outdoors?  If so, then take a walk on the Katy Trail.  This is a 225 mile hiking and biking trail.  Given that it was a blustery day and I had no food and water with me, I skipped the trail and settled for the 10 mile historical tour.

About halfway through the tour, my camera batteries died, so I finished the tour and then headed back to the inn, hoping to get back out later to finish my photography.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make it back out as the sharp wind and massive temperature changed caused a whanging headache so I rested in my room until it was time for worship.

I attended Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church which was very elegant, for lack of a better word.  It just seemed to possess a unique quality.  What made it better was that you could feel Jesus’ presence all throughout the service.  The deacon, who was an excellent speaker, gave an awesome sermon about the power of touch (both God’s and actual contact) based off the story in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus heals the leper.  It was the type of service that makes you feel like you’re floating 5 feet off the ground when the service is done.

Once services ended, I headed over to The Palace for some dinner.  Once again I had found a restaurant that was crammed to the rafters which is a good sign.  The place was so full that they actually had to makeshift a table for me behind the salad bar.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich which filled the cavity nicely.

From there, I headed back to Rivercene where I joined other guests and Donn in the parlor where we talked into the night about a variety of subjects.  About 10:30pm, I dragged myself up to my room where I crawled wearily into bed.

Breakfast the next morning featured a fully loaded table of guests as well as a repeat of yesterday’s morning meal though the sausage in yesterday’s soufflé had been replaced with spiral cut ham, plus Joe had prepared some orange rolls.  I chatted amiably with my new acquaintances, Tim and Christina, over the meal and about my future projects.  Donn appeared and announced that snow was set to begin falling, so I polished up my meal so I could finish the article and hit the road.

Due to its history and mystery, I would rate Rivercene Plantation as the most intriguing inn I have visited for this project.  If your journeys should bring you to this region, spend a night here.  You will hear some amazing stories, get some history, enjoy the company of a master storyteller, and taste some excellent cuisine.