“You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.” This is how Tommy DeVito, the brusque patriarch, introduces the story of how a ramshackle group of guys from New Jersey became one of the top-selling pop groups of all time — The Four Seasons. It’s a sordid tale, filled with episodes of imprisonment, mob threats, death and unfettered ego. But as actor Michael Lomenda (who plays the original bass singer/guitarist of the band, Nick Massi) sums it up, the story of the “Jersey Boys” is, at its core, a “personal” one.
If you ask Nick Cosgrove, who plays the lead, Frankie Valli, how he first became familiar with the show and the music, he’ll tell you about how he grew up in Chicago, listening to The Four Seasons in his mother’s car. He’ll go on to reminisce about the first time he saw the musical at age 17 and how he was “sitting there, getting inspired and thinking, ‘I want to go to school and train to be in this play.’” Six years later, after a grueling, yearlong audition process, Cosgrove is on that stage, singing “Sherry” and embodying Valli with a fierce gusto and hardened maturity beyond his years.
John Gardiner took a somewhat longer route to the role of Four Seasons founding member Tommy DeVito. Originally from Kentucky, Gardiner spent years on the road as the meerkat Timon in the national tour of “The Lion King” before making it into the ensemble of “Jersey Boys” and climbing his way up through the rankings for four and a half years. Similarly, Michael Lomenda did the show for two years in Toronto before landing a spot on the U.S. national tour. Whereas Miles Jacoby “wasn’t really familiar with The Four Seasons” until he saw the show, fell in love with it and spent a day auditioning for the role of Bob Gaudio, the towering songwriter/keyboardist of the original lineup.
These four leads all have their own deep personal history with the music and lives of the four men they play. But the same goes for the audience of the “Jersey Boys,” which, at the premiere last Tuesday night, rivaled any musical audience I’ve seen in recent years for sheer giddy enthusiasm. “You get a chance to feed off that energetic audience (as actors), and that changes the life of the show,” Lomenda explained.
From the middle-aged women next to me, who danced to the playful beats of “Walk Like a Man,” to the older gentleman a couple of rows to the right who was near tears at the moment of Valli’s mournful ballad, “Fallen Angel,” it became clear that it was more than the “melodies that get under your skin,” as Cosgrove described them, that kept the audience coming back for more.
If you ask me about the appeal of “Jersey Boys,” you’ll get yet another version of a tale that seems to universally end with effusive adoration. Six years ago, in 2007, “Jersey Boys” kicked off its national tour at the Curran Theatre. It was the first Broadway musical I had ever seen, and it is still the benchmark I use for any show, new or old.
As Cosgrove commented, “The music is still timeless and has the possibility to affect people of all ages.” He’s right, but this production of “Jersey Boys” does more than prove naysayers who deem the show aged or say the music is only suited to baby boomers wrong. This crew, this cast and especially these four men distill a vitality of youth that, as John Gardiner puts it, “sinks in and never tires.”