Seasons of the Valli

Four guys singing under a streetlamp become one of the most iconic pop groups of all time.  This is Jersey Boys and it is playing at Great Plains Theatre.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has got it all.  Pathos, greed, temptation, petty jealousies, the triumph of the underdog, the terrible price of success, and so much more.

And it’s all true.

It’s a fascinating story especially as it’s told from the point of view of each band member, all of whom have their own slant on the events of their career.  It’s also an incredible case study on super success as two handled it gracefully, one walked away from the pressure, and another caved to its excesses.  Combine it with the excellent pop tunes and you’ve got the makings for an incredible night of theatre.

Mitchell Aiello understands the many complexities of the script and his direction reflects that understanding.  This is a hard show to direct because, in a sense, the show tells 4 separate stories and the director has to make certain each tale gets the proper weight and focus and that becomes trickier when the stories start to intersect.  Aiello handles this task admirably as his four leads get ample opportunity to shine.  He also has done some terrific staging with some of my favorite moments being when the lights fade out on the Seasons as they fall away from the group.  Aiello also has coached his actors to a rock-solid set of performances.

Some wonderful performances in the supporting cast come from Braden Cray Andrew who adds just the right element of peculiarity to Bob Crewe, the eccentric, but talented, producer and lyricist who let astrology guide his business decisions.  Madelynn Washburn gives a fierce performance as the tough as nails Mary Delgado, Valli’s first wife and then flips that ferocity on its head with a turn as the airheaded lead singer of the Angels.  Washburn’s vocals match her fiery Delgado especially with her lead on “My Boyfriend’s Back”.  Annika Andersson finds some deep layers in the small role of Lorraine, a reporter who has a relationship with Valli, but isn’t wiling to share him with his career or family.

Matthew Ruehlman is a true con artist as Tommy DeVito.  Ruehlman’s DeVito has a certain likability crucial to a good con man, but he can be a real prick, too, as he writes checks his butt can’t cash and rubs the other Seasons the wrong way.  Ruehlman also brings a good sense of vanity to DeVito who thinks he’s the leader of the group (he’s not), but melds it with a tremendous force of will which arguably did hold the group together until they hit it big.  Ruehlman also brings some pathos to DeVito when his love of the high life and get rich quick schemes nearly sink the group at its zenith as well as endanger his continued well-being.

I was extremely impressed with the depth Bobby Guenther brought to the role of Nick Massi.  At one point, Massi compares himself to Ringo Starr, but George Harrison is the more apt comparison as Massi is the quiet Season.  Guenther’s Massi was content to go with the flow until the pressures of success and DeVito’s irresponsible behavior cause him to crack.   His breakdown was honest and true and you could feel his regret at the way he let stardom blow his family life to smithereens.  Guenther also has a big, beautiful bass voice who served as the foundation of the Seasons’ harmonies.

I really enjoyed Clayton Sallee’s take on Bob Gaudio.  Sallee plays the legendary songwriter with an ironclad sense of confidence with just the slightest sprinkling of ego.  Gaudio’s music was a big part of the equation in the success of the Four Seasons, but he never lords it over the others even though he argues, and pretty strongly, that “they couldn’t have done it without him”.  Sallee well communicates Gaudio’s knowledge of the music business with his negotiations with DeVito and his business dealings with Valli.  Sallee also an angelic tenor and knocks it out of the park with “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”.

This being my second go-around reviewing this musical, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the role of Frankie Valli has to be one of the most difficult to cast in theatre as talent isn’t enough.  You also need an actor of a certain physicality who can emulate Valli’s singular vibrato falsetto and tenor.  Luckily, this show has the talents of Bear Manescalchi who fits the role to a T. 

Manescalchi lays out a beautiful arc for Valli starting with him as a shy, hesitant teenager smoothing out the rough edges on his singing and evolving him into the strong, confident leader of the Seasons and mimics that falsetto and tenor to perfection from “Sherry” to “Rag Doll” to “Dawn” and all the rest. Manescalchi brings some raw emotional power to the role and knows how to act through a song with renditions of “My Eyes Adored You” and “Fallen Angel” that made me want to burst into tears.  Manescalchi can act up a storm away from a song with his smoldering fury and frustration with DeVito and his personal collapse upon learning of the death of his youngest daughter being particular treats.

Mitchell Aiello’s choreography is right on the mark.  This show isn’t known for big, flashy numbers though he gets some boppin’ in with “Short Shorts” and the curtain call reprise of “December, 1963”.  Rather it just needs well-coordinated, simple moves as the singers perform and he does that in spades.  Aiello has also designed a simple set of risers and crisscrossed slats to create the world of this show.  Kent Buess’ lights add fantastic detail and are highly emotional with a tragic blue for sadder moments, red for angrier moments, and a sunset purple for passionate moments.  He also has a good use for shadow as he brings the lights down on each Season as he leaves the group and also leaves the replacements (at least initially) in the shadows to emphasize the star that is Frankie Valli.  Becky Dibben’s costumes fill the bill with the trademark colorful suits of the Seasons as well as the period correct clothing of the cast as the show evolves from the 60s to 2000s.  Donna Rendely Peeler’s musical direction is spectacular.  The harmonies are gorgeous, the solos are heavenly, and never is a sour note sung.

The performers definitely needed to tighten the cue pickups both internally and in dialogue to help boost the energy and some moments of violence and horseplay need some smoothing out to be a bit more realistic. I’d also like to see this show again with a more demonstrative crowd as the quiet crowd of this performance wasn’t giving the cast enough energy to feed upon and that high octane flow between cast and audience is essential for a production such as this one.

That being said, this show is still another feather in the cap of Great Plains Theatre and you should get a ticket to see it.  And don’t be shy.  Be big.  Be boisterous.  Let it all hang loose because this cast is going to give you a show to remember.

Jersey Boys plays at Great Plains Theatre through July 31.  Showtimes are 2pm on Wed, Sat, and Sun and 7:30pm Thurs-Sat.  Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.greatplainstheatre.com, or calling 785-263-4574.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

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

Professional Auditions for Great Plains Theatre

Great Plains Theatre Announces Audtions for Season 28: Season of Possibilities

Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, will be holding in person auditions as well as accepting video submissions. All shows listed below will be cast by February 2022. Please see the audition details below.

IN PERSON AUDITION

Where: Great Plains Theatre – 215 N. Campbell St, Abilene, KS 67410

When: Saturday, December 11, 2021 – Registration @ 8:00am – Auditions begin @ 8:30am

What: Please prepare one 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you as well as a 60 second monologue. You may be asked to sing something else from your repertoire. A group dance call will be held at 11:00am. Any needed callbacks will be discussed at 11:45am or conducted virtually. Please bring one copy of a current head shot and resume for the Artistic Director to keep. Must sign up below to audition.

Sign up for In Person Audition at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0d4fabae23a3face9-gptseason

VIRTUAL AUDITION SUBMISSIONS

Where: All audition submissions must be sent to the Artistic Director at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

When: Audition Submissions must be received by January 28, 2022 for consideration. All callbacks will be virtual and sent/received between January 31 and February 28.

What: Please submit a current head shot and updated resume. In addition, please send one 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you, a 60-second monologue, and any dance footage. All videos MUST be submitted as a viewable YOUTUBE link. You may be asked to sing something else from your repertoire. You may also submit any musical theatre reels for considerations. 

Thank you and happy auditioning!

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Main Stage):

Footloose (Rehearsals: May 23-June 2, Performances: June 3-12)

Matilda the Musical (Rehearsals: June 13-23, Performances: June 24-July 3)

Jersey Boys (Rehearsals: July 4-14, Performances: July 15-31)

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Rehearsals: August 29-September 8, Performances: September 9-25)

The Christmas Schooner (Rehearsals: November 20-December 1, Performance: December 2-18)

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Live Literature Series):

The Ugly Duckling (Rehearsals: February 23-March 4, Performances: March 5-12)

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Rehearsals: August 29-September 8, Performances: September 9-25)

Questions? Contact Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

‘Jersey Boys’ Working its Way Back to Omaha

Omaha, NE (January 31, 2017)–Omaha Performing Arts presents the Tony, Grammy, and Olivier Award-winning hit musical, Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.  The musical will make its much-anticipated return to Omaha, playing the Orpheum Theater, March 7-12, 2017.  Tickets, starting at $35, are available at the Ticket Omaha Box Office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street, by calling 402-345-0606 or online at TicketOmaha.com.

Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons:  Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Nick Massi.  This is the true story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time.  They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds, and sold 175 million records worldwide–all before they were thirty.  The features all their hits including, “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Oh, What a Night”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, and “Working My Way Back to You”.

Jersey Boys is the winner of the 2006 Best Musical Tony Award, the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album, the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Musical and the 2010 Helpmann Award for Best Musical (Australia).  Jersey Boys has been seen by over 24 millions people worldwide.

Directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des MacAnuff, Jersey Boys is written by Academy Award-winner Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

Jersey Boys is produced by Dodger Theatricals, Joseph J. Grano, Tamara and Kevin Kinsella, Pelican Group, with Latitude Link, and Rick Steiner.  The Original Broadway Cast recording of Jersey Boys, produced by Bob Gaudio, was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.  The cast recording is available on Rhino Records.  Jersey Boys:  The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (Broadway Books) is the official handbook to the smash Broadway hit.  Seasons Greetings:  A Jersey Boys Christmas, a holiday CD featuring international cast members of Jersey Boys, produced by Bob Gaudio, is available on Rhino Records.

For more information on Jersey Boys, go to www.OmahaPerformingsArts.org or www.JerseyBoysTour.com or watch online at www.JerseyBoysTour.com/watch.