Theater note: 40 years of friendship in (give or take) 29 songs

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Four guys start singing together on a street corner, take turns landing in jail, make it big on the radio with a trio of hits, drink too much, spend too much money, ruin their marriages and finally break up the band. No way are they still friends, right?

As Tommy DeVito (Erik Bates) would say, “If that’s what you think, you’re not from Jersey.”

Jersey Boys is playing at the Orpheum Theatre, Hennepin Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, through April 20. For information, click here.


In Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Tommy and Frankie (Christopher Kale Jones) establish a bond of brotherhood that makes both their inevitable split-up and their reconciliation believable.

Indeed, the triumph of friendship over just about everything else elevates Jersey Boys from an energetic pop musical to a satisfying drama with a great soundtrack. The show is so well edited that I can’t think of a single scene, song or line that I’d take out, which makes Jersey Boys the tightest musical I’ve seen since Rent.

The songs are delightful, of course, and while few of them pushed my personal nostalgia button, that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story. Musicals are not my favorite genre, but this one I liked because it feels like a concert (as opposed to so many musicals that make me want to shout, “Stop singing and just say it!”). I found myself hoping that the four principal actors will become a real band like The Monkees. (Pictured at right: Christopher Kale Jones)

Jersey Boys may be a biography, but it’s got some sitcom DNA. In theater, I’m not sure who has more influence over comedic timing—the writers, the director, or the actors—but this show gets laughter in all the right places. The English majors in the audience actually applauded songwriter/keyboardist Bob Gaudio’s (Andrew Rannells) line about the girls-in-general for whom he wrote “Cry For Me”: “It’s what T. S. Eliot calls the objective correlative,” he explains with a completely straight face to a couple of blue-collar Jersey girls.

Bassist Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) delivers a good one, too, when reflecting on his disillusionment with a pop star’s life: “If there’s four guys and you’re Ringo…” he demurs.

Visually the show is a treat, from the costumes to the overhead TV screens to the occasional switch of perspective, placing the audience backstage. (Pictured at left: Erik Bates)

Jersey Boys is not a cheap ticket ($28.50-$133.50) and there’s enough foul language to rival an episode of The Sopranos. But it’s a fun splurge, and, for better or for worse, you may find it impossible to stop humming “Sherry Baby,” “Rag Doll,” and “Oh What a Night”!

Anne Nicolai (askanne@nadfm.com) lives, works, plays, and blogs about arts and culture in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Visit nadfm.com.