Nearly a decade has passed since Jersey Boys, the behind-the-scenes musical that gives glossy treatment to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, first opened on Broadway in 2005. The ensuing years have not been kind to several of its jukebox rivals. Hot Feet, which featured the musical stylings of Earth, Wind & Fire and told the story of a dancer who dons a pair of magical red slippers, crashed to earth after a mere three months on Broadway. Likewise, The Times They Are A-Changin' made only pocket change during its fleeting Broadway run, shutting down after only 28 performances.
So it is that Jersey Boys, rolling into St. Louis for a twelve-day stand at the Fox Theatre, has all the swagger of a conquering army. And like any occupying force, the show isn't shy about advertising its success to the natives, boasting in a Harper's index-style list that more than 13 million people — that's more than the entire population of Zimbabwe, folks — have chair-danced to its snappy renditions of "Walk Like a Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry." The show has won four Tony Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. The touring company has broken more than twenty box office records. It's won 54 "major awards worldwide" and raised more than $1.2 million for charity in the last three-and-a-half years.
It has played New Zealand.
Still, is this rags-to-riches tale of four guys from Jersey any good?
At this point, the question seems irrelevant. The market has spoken: It's Jersey Boys!
Of course, you can't go to a spectacle like this anticipating much in the way of nuanced character development. And the story line is at such a high polish that even its roughest edges — divorce, recriminations, the death of a child — are dispatched with only a line or two, mere filler as the cast prepares for its next number.
But, oh! What numbers they are. In the title role of Frankie Valli, Hayden Milanes manages to nail even the uppermost notes in Valli's stratospheric falsetto, belting out standards of our parents' childhood like "Sherry," "Stay," and "Oh, What a Night" with remarkable verisimilitude. Unfortunately, the show's emotional centerpiece, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," which arrives midway through the second act as the vehicle for Valli's inevitable comeback, fell a little flat, lacking some of the emotional depth the production (which pauses for applause) clearly expects it to deliver.
But overall, the battle-tested Jersey Boys remains in fine fighting form with a strong cast. It delivers its easy pleasures with professional efficiency, showing once again that more than 13 million people (and counting!) can't be wrong.