Sunday, October 5, 2014

Douglas Messerli | "Everybody Leaves" (on the musical Jersey Boys)

After having seen the film with Howard, I bought tickets for my Jersey boy’s 68th birthday (Howard was born in Atlantic City) for the reprise tour of the musical in Los Angeles on October 4, 2014, a short review of which I’ve added below.

everybody leaves

Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (book), Bob Gaudio (music), and Bob Crewe (lyrics) Jersey Boys / the performance I attended was at the Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles on October 4, 2014.

Since I recently reviewed the film version of Jersey Boys, I won’t retell the story or recount the songs performed in what on stage is basically a musical review with sidebars; the director, Des McAnuff might as well have used supertitles in his busy set to convey the plot incidents, so quickly do we glimpse the incidents in the singers lives on which Clint Eastwood, in his film version, so thoroughly focused.

      In fact, the fast-moving review format seems to work best for this somewhat shallow, but emphatically tourist-pleasing concoction. Although, as I mention above, the songs are ultimately simple-minded, harmonically-attuned utterings of love found and failed, for the generation my husband Howard and I inhabit, they are so soaked in nostalgia that, at moments, they inevitably bring tears to one’s eyes, particularly “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t My Eyes Off of You,” “My Eyes Adored You,” and “Working My Way Back to You” (the last a Four Seasons hit, but not written by Gaudio and Crewe). And despite the excellent renditions of the group’s songs in the film, it is particularly energizing to hear them sung live. In the stage version I witnessed, Hayden Milanes credibly sang the Valli role, despite not quite having Valli’s or John Lloyd Young’s (of the film) strength of voice, his vocal range made up for it, and combined with Nicolas Dromard (as bad boy Tommy DeVito), Jason Kappus (as Bob Gaudio), and Adam Zelasko (as Nick Massi), the quartet gets close to the real group’s harmonies. The Los Angeles audience, a gathering far more mixed in age and ethnicity than the blue-haired film attendees, clapped along, hooted, and hollered along with the performances as presumably the cast has come to expect from such tourist-friendly fodder.

     Many of the tangential plot elements are used in the stage production almost as musical clues or lead-ins, which works well, particularly, for numbers such as “My Eyes Adored You,” the oft-repeated “December, 1963,” and “Working My Way Back to You.”  But overall one could summarize the plot as consisting of all the group members’ attempts to communicate with loved ones and to return to a past that was being erased as they moved forward in their fame. None of them, except perhaps for Bob Gaudio, ever really left New Jersey, as Valli’s longtime girlfriend argues as she is about to leave him; and their gradual breakdown has to do with the fact that none of them have been truly able to outgrow those adolescent associations. No matter how well he can sing, Tommy DeVito will always be a punk, more interested in seeking a fast way to power and riches than he is devoted to a musical career; Nick Massi, who has gone so far as to pretend he is uncle to his own children, cannot escape the guilt and discomfort that he suffers while traveling, which results in he is eventual break with The Four Seasons; even the seemingly well-balanced and intelligent Gaudio is anxious to get out of the spotlight as a performing singer and return to his quieter life as an off-stage composer. Only Valli is committed to the music itself, and it is because of that dedication that he is forced to give up almost all of his personal relationships—including wife and daughter, both of whom he loses to drugs—and any remnants of a normal life. Is it any wonder that he wails that “everyone leaves,” and that he ends up performing as a single singer backed up with a constantly shifting “new” quartet.

     If there is any emotional dimension to the stage musical other than the appeal of the lyrical absence embedded in the songs themselves, it derives from Valli’s ultimate loneliness as he moves from a young kid surrounded by fathering surrogates into an adult life where he is forced into personal isolation. In fact, Valli, accordingly to this scenario, appears to have always preferred that isolation, and has, from the beginning, preferred the quiet discovery of the group’s “sound” under a streetlight than the messy noise of one-to-one human involvement. As destined and doomed performers have discovered time and again, to love an audience is not the same as loving another individual; the audience always gets in the way of those others you’d like to keep near to you, forcing them, in the end, to abandon whatever glimmer of the shared spotlight might shine upon them. No matter how much joy he gives to others, to his audiences, to us, there’s always a sad story, it seems, behind any truly devoted artist.

     Strangely, for one of the few times of my theater-going years in Los Angeles, even after the characters had bowed and left the stage, most of the audience stayed behind to enjoy the last refrains of the onstage Jersey Boys orchestra conducted by Ben Hartman.

Los Angeles, October 5, 2014

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