An ebullient, soaring performance powerhouse of talent emerged Friday night at The Gateway’s Long Island premiere of “Jersey Boys,” with its four stars, cast, and orchestra blowing the lid off musical theater excellence, just about breaking the audience’s hearts in gratefulness.
The background story about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the rock ‘n’ roll band that formed in 1960s, isn’t just about their amazing hit songs—although the group had undisputed success, with over 20 Billboard Hot 100 singles, with 12 in the Top 10, several No. 1, through that decade. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (it ran on Broadway from 2005 to 2017, winning several major awards, including Tony and Olivier Awards) still stands brilliantly, with each member of the group telling their version one at a time, with surprising frankness.
The band made a tectonic shift in rock ‘n’ roll music, with Bob Gaudio writing hit song after hit song and Valli as lead singer and the others, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, contributing significant parts of the whole.
DeVito, played by Travis Murad Leland, introduces the dialogue. He was the original founding member and organizer, with rough edges, who pushed Valli to achieve his brilliance. But there were dubious deals, prison, resentment, and big gambling debts along the way. Leland plays DeVito’s swagger, frustration, and dismissive way, dazzlingly with brio.
Pablo David Laucerica’s Frankie Valli is gorgeously intuitive in voice and in acting his subject’s youthful enthusiasm, and later on, poignancy, unsureness, grief, and loyalty. Laucerica’s voice is a healing instrument that spiraled over the theater, illuminating an exquisite three-octave range and falsetto reach, just like Valli’s. The actor, a tenor, graduated from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music with a bachelor’s degree in voice and opera performance and a certificate in musical theatre performance.
Lucas Poost as Bob Gaudio belted a startling voice, amazing in power and range. Poost’s take on Gaudio’s joyful sincerity and innocence in the beginning and desire to stay behind the scenes is masterful.
Matt Faucher as Nick Massi presented his low-key, meticulous character with a simmering undertow. (He played Massi in the musical’s second national tour.) He’s the talented bass vocal in the group, who tries to steer DeVito on a better path. When he refers to himself as the Ringo Starr of the group, there’s an inherent sadness.
A lot of comedic touches are present along with the elation, drama, and tragedy. Mike D’Amico as Joe Pesci (yes, that one, from “My Cousin Vinny” and other hit movies), who introduces Frankie Valli as a major talent the group needs to hire, is hilarious. David Engel (a Gateway alum as recent as “Clue”) plays producer, manager, and lyricist Bob Crewe with a mischievous tongue-in-cheek archness, and Luke Darnell as mobster Gyp DeCarlo kept his wise guy low key with a dry sense of humor.
The women in Valli’s life made their mark, with Haley Hannah as Mary Delgado, Valli’s first wife; Aja Goes as Lorraine, Valli’s journalist girlfriend; and Paloma D’Auria as Valli’s daughter, Francine.
But let’s get to the songs. The band’s soaring harmony and their sound made those hits chart toppers, and there are 34 gloriously sung. They are a joy to hear, no matter your era. “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Oh What a Night” are all in there.
The leads all have amazing pipes. Poost as Bob Gaudio is a Gateway alum in “Kinky Boots,” and did its national tour as well as “Shrek”; Leland, as Tommy DeVito, played in The Gateway’s recent “Clue” and was in Amazon’s “Pride and Prejudice” musical; Faucher, besides playing the Nick Massi role in the national tour of “Jersey Boys,” has starred on Broadway in “Beautiful” and TV’s “F.B.I”; and Laucerica has just come off of the “Dear Evan Hansen” national tour.
The set is an imaginative lighting masterpiece with clever projections: the old neighborhood, the clubs and theaters they played, the “Ed Sullivan Show” (the cameraman following the group onstage on that iconic TV show as they sing is a clever touch). Catch the orchestra waving from behind the set at the finale. They were awesome.
Valli was asked what he thought was the high point for him when the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“It was four guys from New Jersey singing under the streetlights and the first time we made that sound,” he said.
You have through Sept. 10 to hear it.