October 15, 2016
I had only seen the film version of "Jersey Boys" directed by Clint Eastwood two years ago when it was shown in local theaters. I never got the chance to watch it on stage even though I had seen posters of the hit stage production in both Broadway and in Las Vegas when I was visiting those places before. I was very excited when Atlantis announced that they were going to stage this show with an all-Filipino cast from Sept. 23 to Oct. 16 this year. Unfortunately because of a very tight schedule, I was only able to catch it today, on its third to the last show.
The music of this decidedly masculine musical was by Bob Gaudio with lyrics by Bob Crewe, while the book was by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Using the group's name as basis, the play was divided into four sections each given the name of a certain season.
Spring was narrated by Tommy de Vito, as it detailed the unsavory origins of the group. Despite its image as a clean-cut group, they actually had criminal records and shady connections with the Mob. Summer was narrated by Bob Gaudio, as their entry into pop stardom was described. This was the most exciting section as it was here that their unforgettable hit songs -- "Sherry" (#1 Aug. 1962), "Big Girls Don't Cry" (#1 Oct. 1962) and "Walk Like a Man" (#1 Jan. 1963) -- were sung.
After the intermission, it was Fall, narrated by Nick Massi. As the title of the section suggested, this part was the downer section recounting the band's fall from grace brought about by Tommy's reckless dealings with loan sharks and the IRS, something that eventually led to the group's disbandment. The last section Winter was narrated by Frankie Valli, telling about his strained personal relationships, as well as his emergence as a successful solo artist. This culminated in an electric reunion performance of "Rag Doll" (#1 Jul. 1964) during their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Nyoy Volante was amazing as he delivered his lines and sang his songs in the very distinctly squeaky speaking voice and soaring falsetto singing voice of Frankie Valli. We know he had a talent for impersonation during his remarkable stint as a contestant on TV's "Your Face Sounds Familiar" when he impressively took on a most varied list of singers from Luciano Pavarotti to Sylvia la Torre. But to copy someone's voice for one song is one thing, and to stay in that voice consistently for the entire 2-1/2 hours duration of the play is something else. Volante's singing range was breathtaking as he tore into those iconic songs as if he were Valli himself. His sincere acting we can all empathize with.
Markki Stroem had been an erratic performer in the previous times I had seen him on stage or film. However, make no mistake, his performance in this show as Tommy de Vito was the best I had ever seen him in. He stood out with his strong stage presence, full of confidence and bravado as he realistically delivered those gangster lines of his, as well as perfect comic timing in those sly humorous zingers he had.
Nino Alejandro is a very natural actor for someone who is new to the stage scene. His character Nick Massi was the most low key of the four, and he admitted to this himself, likening himself to Ringo Starr. We hear Alejandro's rich voice distinctly as he sang the baritone parts of the harmonies, in audible contrast with Volante's falsetto. His sense of comedy was also faultless in his delivery of his funny lines in that realistic Jersey accent.
Christian Bautista is no doubt a very good singer. His very first song in this show "Cry for Me" showed off his singing range. However his range as an actor was noted to be rather limited in previous roles as Tony in "West Side Story" and Sam in "Ghost". Since he plays the rather one-dimensional goody-goody role here as Bob Gaudio, his performance was actually quite good this time. His dancing though still needed more verve when compared to the other three guys.
Jamie Esteva Wilson played a serene Mafia don Gyp deCarlo, while Nelsito Gomez played a comical Joe Pesci. The other members of the hard-working company had to portray the numerous side characters around the central four, and their singing was all on-point as well. The men were Bibo Reyes, Altair Alonso, Steven Conde, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Kendrick Ibasco, Gab Medina, and Timmy Pavino. The ladies were Mikkie Bradshaw, Yanah Laurel, Giannina Ocampo, and Emeline Carmela Guinid. Thanks to the transforming hair & makeup design by Johann Dela Fuente and costumes by Erwin Tan, I did not recognize who was who anymore from where I was sitting.
The set designed by Faust Peneyra looked like plain brown wooden boxes only at first, but they came alive with the multi-colored lighting design of Driscoll Otto. Those boxes turned out to be multi-purpose wonders as they were converted into a recording studio, a performance stage in a club, a line of prison cells, various offices and living rooms, by the fluid pushing in and out of the props. They did not fail to reproduce the light post under which the boys first realized they had magic sonic chemistry together.
"December 1963 (Oh What a Night)" (#1 in 1976), my personal favorite Four Seasons song, was performed twice. The first time was sung by Bob when he got his Christmas "gift", and the second time was during curtain call (when you can't help but to stand up and dance along). A night spent watching this show is indeed quite a night. The music of the Four Seasons remains as vital as they were 40-50 years ago, under the adept musical direction of Ceejay Javier. The fantastic performances of our Filipino actors triumphantly transcended boundaries. The enthralled audience was clamoring for an encore after the last song. This first-rate Atlantis production of "Jersey Boys" as directed by Bobby Garcia is definitely worthy to tour the world.
"Jersey Boys" has one last performance at 3pm on October 16, 2016 before winding up their critically and fan-acclaimed run at the Meralco Theater. Parental guidance is advised for young viewers. The Jersey tongue is prone to profanity, so several crisp ones come up through out this show. There were also scenes with overt sexual references.