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Why Jersey Boys may work even better Off-Broadway
An 11-year run on Broadway is a rare accomplishment, yet when Jersey Boys closed in January after more than 4,500 performances, it felt premature. The Tony-winning bio-musical about the Four Seasons was still attracting respectable crowds and its loss was definitely felt -- especially by the legendary pop group's legion of fans. The producers must have missed it, too, because in August they announced Jersey Boys would reopen in the fall Off-Broadway. It's now playing an open-ended engagement at New World Stages and features the same script, score, design, and choreography as the original production, just in a smaller theatre with a trimmed-down cast.
Des McAnuff, who earned a Tony nomination for directing the show on Broadway, has also returned, and while he hasn't helmed an Off-Broadway production in many years, he says he feels right at home. "It is kind of like going back to the roots of Jersey Boys," he says, noting that in 2004 he staged the musical's pre-Broadway tryout at California's La Jolla Playhouse, which is comparable in size to the show's new 499-seat theatre.
According to McAnuff, the more intimate venue enhances the show's potency. "Jersey Boys is very much a book show," he explains. "You could almost call it a play with songs. There's a depth of character and there's intricacy in the storytelling, and those factors are even more powerful in the smaller house. You don't need to have 2,000 seats for it to land."
Featuring a score composed of the Four Seasons' greatest hits, and a Rashomon-style book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice that lets each band member have his say, the show chronicles the group's real-life rise to fame as '60s and '70s chart-toppers. McAnuff says you feel like "you're sitting in the living room with the Four Seasons" at New World Stages, so the audience gets personally invested in their colorful rags-to-riches journey, which includes the Mob, romance, infighting, gold records, and a certain future Oscar-winning actor.
McAnuff says the cozier theatre allows the performances to become "almost cinematic," and the smaller cast means supporting actors have more of a chance to stand out due to doubling roles. For example, Jon Hacker is "a major feature of the show," says McAnuff. "The audience gives him ovations that no Joey has ever had before, because he's not just playing Joey, he's playing D.J. and a number of other parts that he wouldn't have done before."
After more than a decade working on this material, McAnuff says it's hard for him to pick a top moment in Jersey Boys. "That's sort of like a father with children!" he says. "I’m not really allowed to have a favorite." But after a moment's reflection, he admits, "As a director, just dramatically, one of the songs I personally love is 'Who Loves You,'" which is performed after the band experiences a series of hardships including debt, divorce, and a death. "Thematically, after all the agony that these guys go through, and all of the consternation in their personal relationships, they finally come together at the end of the show and sing this song." It's also an apt metaphor for the production itself, which has brought the original artists back together for one more run.
Gavin Whitehead is a writer and dramaturg based in New Haven.
Top image: Aaron De Jesus, Cory Jeacoma, Nicolas Dromard, and Mark Edwards in Jersey Boys. Photos by Joan Marcus.
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