Excepting the fact that this theatergoer was a mere tadpole who did not sacrifice his virginity in “late December back in ’63,” everything about Jersey Boys feels real to the bone. Real as Las Vegas fakery can be—that’s why the heavyweight musical’s return is so welcome. (And yes, “Oh, What a Night” is indeed about that singular experience.)
Resurfacing this month at Paris Las Vegas after departing the Palazzo two months ago, the tuneful bio of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is a superior jukebox musical—i.e., it has a plot rather than just a greatest-hits mentality—but more than that, it’s a show that lives in the real world even while it stars on a street of fantasy.
Does that matter? Practically speaking, no. Symbolically speaking, yes. In the dreamlike Cirque-centric universe that largely defines Las Vegas Boulevard now, Jersey Boys is an island of relatability.
Musically, it’s a marvel, particularly to those of us who were raised on the tingly, doo-wop-style harmonies of the Four Seasons and the exquisitely pure, castrato-like falsetto of Frankie Valli.
What songs are in it? Let us count the tunes: “Sherry,” “Beggin,” “Opus 17,” “Rag Doll,” “Let’s Hang On,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Who Loves You,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Bye Bye Baby,” “C’mon Marianne” and the aforementioned “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” (twice)—pretty much the entire Four Seasons catalog—plus Valli solo hits “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “My Eyes Adored You.” (Several faves such as “Swearin’ to God,” “Our Day Will Come,” “Heaven Must Have Sent You” and “Grease” may be missing, but that’s why nature invented iTunes.)
Yet in its story of a singing group that rose from the hardscrabble streets of Newark, it’s about a journey we all undertake, that struggle to succeed. It’s about these particular men’s dreams coming wildly, spectacularly true. But it’s also about the rejection along the way, the sacrifices made to get there and the costs of that odyssey: frayed friendships, busted marriages, neglected family and personal tragedy. Our own struggles to achieve may be smaller in scope, meeting with varying levels of success, but we’ve all been there. When was the last time you swung on a Cirque du Soleil trapeze? Worn blue face paint? Been a masked, disfigured romantic haunting the underground tunnels of an opera house?
Jersey Boys catapults beyond the sensational into the emotional. Yes, you can sing to it, foot-tap to it, even leap from your seat and twist and shout to it. But you can also feel it in your gut, not just stare at it in awe, inviting your heart in on the experience that your eyes and ears are having. That’s a relative rarity in a city whose entertainment ethos now is obsessed with spectacles assaulting the senses. Tourists—and locals—perusing their choices will find that Jersey Boys is a tasty cut of meat on a menu dominated by exotic desserts.
Welcome back, youz guys.