Oh, what a night!

The Muni hits high notes with Jersey Boys

The Muni's Jersey Boys is an impressive, energy-packed romp documenting the many decades of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. It is brilliantly structured, with each of the original Four Seasons narrating a different "season" of their lives. The story begins on the seedy streets of their youth and transitions to their 1960s Top-40 glory – then to their inevitable fall from the height of fame. Unlike most jukebox musicals, where songs are cut into an independent storyline, the songs in Jersey Boys are the story, sung to us through a biographical musical timeline. With classic numbers like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man," Jersey Boys continuously delivers hits that feel like home.

click to enlarge Oh, what a night!
Photo by Matt Franklin
From left to right: Matt Woodsen, Damien Kaplan, Cooper Coker and Gavin Gardner star in the musical Jersey Boys, which documents the many decades of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Directing duo Christie Lazarides and Craig Williams have wanted to bring this show to Springfield for a long time. "I first saw Jersey Boys in Chicago in 2009 and was immediately captivated," Lazarides said. "I have never before wanted to turn right around, sit down and watch an entire show again."

She and Williams have created that same joyous energy at The Muni. The show's perpetual scene-to-scene motion develops like a movie reel, with layers of background activity and interesting characters peppering the stage. This is accomplished with a cast of only 20 people, with each ensemble member playing at least two and as many as 15 different characters. Even with the many quick changes and moving pieces, each beat of their Jersey Boys is seamless, dynamic and fun.

We are first introduced to Tommy Devito, a degenerate hustler and musician who brought the group together, played masterfully by Gavin Gardner. Gardner turns on a gameshow host smile during his well-crooned musical numbers while maintaining Devito's slimeball persona. He's a guy you love to hate.

Cooper Coker plays teenage prodigy Bob Gaudio, and is expertly cast, considering Coker is an amazing vocalist at only 17 years old himself. He's decades younger than some of his fellow castmates, but said that didn't create any barriers.

"I'm an old soul," said Coker. "When the four of us were cast we all messaged each other, then we went to dinner and boom, it clicked. We love hanging out," he said.

The true magic of the show exudes from how in-sync the four leads are. Their harmonies are tight and pitch-perfect, thanks to vocal director Zoey Zara. The choreography by Anna Maisenbacher is both vibrant and nostalgic. You might forget you're not watching the actual Four Seasons, and it's hard to tell where the characters begin and the person playing that character ends. Even after a late-night rehearsal, the four of them – now the only ones left onstage – were laughing and playfully shoving each other in a tight circle, just like any real-life musical group would be after a proud performance.

The second act showcases Matt Woodsen's narration as Nick Massi. Woodsen shines as the quietest member of The Four Seasons. He ably depicts the delicate balance between Massi's neuroticisms and his well-justified growing bitterness toward his bandmates.

The final narrator is Frankie Valli himself. Damien Kaplan's portrayal of Valli is particularly noteworthy, a masterclass in embodying the transformation of a naïve, young singer into the seasoned star grappling with fame. Kaplan's vocal prowess is on full display, effortlessly hitting high notes that define Valli's signature sound while conveying the emotional depth of his character. Kaplan has been waiting a long time to play this part, and it shows.

"It is by far my favorite role," Kaplan said. "I've wanted to play Frankie Valli since I first saw it in the early 2000s." Valli wraps up the show by walking offstage to continue touring, which he still does to this day.

My only critique of the script itself is the underdevelopment of the female characters, who appear as peripheral figures to supplement the male-dominated narrative. Despite this, performers like Ellen Tuttle as a reporter, Lorraine, and Leanne Telger as Valli's daughter, Francine, manage to shine with vulnerable authenticity. A standout is Molly Schunicht, whose portrayal of Valli's rough-and-tumble first wife felt both visceral and sincere. Jakob Hankins' Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) is also a spot-on, funny performance. The entire cast is a tour de force.

I highly recommend seeing this tune-filled time capsule. Whether you're a lifelong fan of The Four Seasons or a newcomer to their sound, The Muni's Jersey Boys will leave you dancing in your seat. This is one of Springfield's theatrical triumphs you truly shouldn't miss.

Jersey Boys continues its run at the Springfield Muni Opera, June 5-8. Performances start at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are available at TheMuni.org, or at The Muni box office beginning 90 minutes before each performance.

Courtney Wick is a freelance writer from Springfield who is active in the area theater scene. Most recently, she wrote and directed the murder-mystery comedy "Nightmare at the Hot Mess Hair Salon," a follow-up to her previous production, "Nightmare at the Sweet Dreams Inn."