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“Jersey Boys” complete entertainment at Capital Rep in Albany

 Jersey Boys at Capital Rep in Albany
Proctors Collaborative
Jersey Boys at Capital Rep in Albany

There is so much theater offered during the summer months, it’s often difficult to decide what to see. For those looking for lively musicals, light-hearted comedies, or sensitive dramas, there is something for all tastes.

If you want all three in one show, Capital Repertory Theater has the perfect choice with “Jersey Boys.” It’s the story of the musical group The Four Seasons, or as they were later called, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Their music dominated the 1960s and 70s, but it is has never been defined by a time period. No matter your age, songs like “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” have you tapping your feet, swaying your head and lip-syncing to the songs. And that’s just a sample of the great music heard throughout the night.

The genius of “Jersey Boys” is that book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice combine these songs with a compelling story about the lives of the individuals of the group. It is as truthful as it is improbable. The team is responsible for showing the dramatic and entertainment potential of the “jukebox musical.”

The first act of the show is by far the most fun. It tells how the criminally inclined Tommy DeVito was determined to put together a music group that would get them out of the New Jersey slums and occasional stints in jail.

Nothing worked until they brought a busboy by the name of Frankie into the act. The trio of DeVito, Nick Massi and Frankie Valli had modest success under a variety of names. However, when the public’s taste trended to male quartets they added Bob Gaudio, a very young, confident performer and magical songwriter to the group. The group now called themselves The Four Seasons, named after a bowling alley which they frequented.

The first act is joyful, optimistically funny and filled with some of their best music. However, by the close of the act it is revealed that DeVito’s unethical behavior caused problems. He was exiled to Las Vegas. Soon Nick Massi, being tired of being the Ringo Starr of the group, left The Four Seasons and Gaudio stopped performing to concentrate on writing and producing for Valli.

Where act one is the improbable creation of The Four Seasons, Act II is about honesty, determination and the price of success. It’s still fun, the story compelling, but the tone turns more mature as they work their way out of debt.

Music director Todd Olson performs magic with the cast. He relies on the classic songs and utilizes each performer’s skill so any comparison to the originals becomes moot. You believe they are The Four Seasons. This is especially true of Evan Jay Newman as Frankie Valli. He will never win a blind sound alike contest as Valli, especially in the first few songs, but as the show progresses it makes little difference. Newman plays the role as an intense, honorable man who was modest about his talent. He captures those qualities even as he becomes the lead man, vocally and morally.

Justin Scott Brown is just as remarkable finding the charm and confidence of Tommy DeVito, a man with absolutely no moral compass. That he is never a dislikeable presence is a boon to the production. Brian Michael Henry as Nick is also excellent as he makes an invisible creation an important physical presence.

However, it is Jeffrey Kringer who, with a marvelous performance, brings an inner life to Bob Gaudio. His supreme confidence in his songwriting talents and his unending belief in Valli’s singing skills makes them more than members of a partnership held together by a handshake. The two – one a blonde preppy who knows his value, and an Italian kid who grew up one step from a jail sentence - bond like brothers and bring a sense of moral integrity to the show.

The very large supporting cast is terrific. Shannon Rafferty catches the right amount of toughness tempered by affection for her cheating husband, Frankie. You can’t help but smile whenever Shayne David Cameris makes an appearance as Bob Crewe and Kyle Garvin is a delight in several roles.

Freddy Ramirez’s choreography perfectly captures the 60s and his larger ensemble work is fun for any decade. The same is true for costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplin, who has an astonishing workload that captures the era. However, through use of color he gives each major character an identifying sense of individuality.

Designer David McQuellan Robertson creates an attractive functional set that director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill uses as perfectly as she creates the fluid story that always keeps us entertained.

“Jersey Boys” is at Capital Rep in Albany through August 21. For tickets and schedule information call 518-346-6204 or go to capitalrep.org.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.