The songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are the songs of my pubescence, but does that make them a musical? Even at 13, I knew that what you piled up on the 45 spindle for sock hops wasn’t the same as what you went to hear in the theater. I grew up in a big city: Stars like Ethel Merman, Gwen Verdon, and Phil Silvers came touring in shows. So the Four Seasons, with their two or three pop hits, weren’t such a big deal. Is my cultural autobiography so fascinating? No, but frankly, neither is Frankie Valli’s. At least as assembled by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the tale of how the Four Seasons came together, sold a lot of records, and subsequently fell apart because Bob Gaudio wanted to stay home and write songs, while Tommy DeVito racked up nasty gambling debts with the Mob, is no big deal—just another biopic immortalizing a minor celeb’s quick rise and a bumpy fall, only in flesh-and-blood 3-D.
But we’ve seen it all before, and Des McAnuff’s production, with most of its numbers delivered by the four stand-ins lined up downstage concertizing, doesn’t make it seem any more exciting than the last 86 times around. The four good actors who play the roles are so non–Italian American– looking that they might as well be doing Forever Plaid, and though they blend nicely, the sound design is so metallic that John Lloyd Young’s falsetto, as Frankie, has an uncomfortable ring of Alvin and the Chipmunks; the real Frankie had a riper, rounder, choirboy tone. For those who crave a wallow in the nostalgia at the end of the tunnel, Jersey Boys does no harm; it’s a painless, if low-octane, evening. Besides the quartet (Young, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, and J. Robert Spencer), good performers like Peter Gregus and Mark Lotito enliven the event with flashes of personality. But for a new musical, Jersey Boys seems amazingly like a rerun.