MANILA — Now this is a how you do a "jukebox musical."
The Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group's production of "Jersey Boys," a musical about – and featuring the music of – the 60s group The Four Seasons and its lead singer, Frankie Valli, opened to a thunderous standing ovation on Friday at the Meralco Theater.
"Jersey Boys" is fashioned like a behind-the scenes documentary, using the four seasons – winter, spring, summer, fall – as a device to neatly tell the story of the group's rise and fall – and subsequent rise.
Each "season" is narrated and told from the point of view of one group member, as they trace the group's turbulent history from its beginnings as a trio in the streets of New Jersey before they discovered Valli, then a teenager. But it was when they recruited songwriter Bob Gaudio (who is credited as the musical's composer) that the Four Seasons conquered the charts.
However, their connections to the mob began to haunt them, which eventually led to the group's breakup – and the rise of Valli as a solo star.
The musical ends with the group's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Although nostalgia certainly plays a important role in this Tony winner for best musical in 2006, there is certainly more to this stage hit than chart-toppers "Walk Like A Man" and "Sherry."
But what sets "Jersey Boys" apart from other "jukebox musicals" like "Mamma Mia" or the local "Dirty Old Musical" is that these songs are truly integral to the narrative.
While some songs are utilized more for dramatic effect —"My Eyes Adored You," a solo hit for Valli, for instance, was used to dramatize his divorce from his wife Mary — many of the group's hits are performed in the show concert-style as it charts the success of the Four Seasons. This gives "Jersey Boys" the added appeal of a greatest-hits concert by a cover band.
And oh what a band! Director Bobby Garcia assembled an all-star group to play the quartet led by Nyoy Volante as Valli.
Volante, a strong finalist in the first season on the celebrity impersonation contest "Your Face Sounds Familiar," doesn't merely mimic Valli, although his solid falsetto was certainly put to good use. When the leads harmonize, it's like listening to the original recordings — which is essential in this musical.
But Volante also shows dramatic range in Valli's domestic scenes and exudes star quality when needed — as in his much-awaited solo "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."
Christian Bautista is charming as the talented Gaudio, while Nino Alejandro as Nick Massi, the self-confessed "Ringo Starr" in the group, maximizes his solo moments with confidence.
But the real standout is Markki Stroem, who, as Tommy DeVito, kicks off the story. Stroem, who previously appeared in several supporting roles with Atlantis, gives a breakthrough performance that is believable and consistent, brimming with swagger, charm and that Italian-American brand of machismo, that help prop up the musical, particularly in the early scenes.
Director Garcia once again delivers a polished production with swift scene changes that seamlessly shift from concert-style blocking to staged drama. He also effectively directs the hard-working ensemble, with the actors disappearing into their multiple roles.
Faust Peynera's scenic design trades the musical's original 60s pop-art flavor for a darker yet glittery feel with the proscenium decked with guitars, while lighting designer Driscoll Otto nails the concert ambience.
Kudos too to musical director Ceejay Javier who perfectly captures the Four Seasons sound, complementing the tight vocal harmonies and keeping the energy for over two hours.
"Jersey Boys" is a smart and entertaining fusion of theater and concert with an appeal that extends well beyond men and women of a certain age. Believe the hype: for the most part, this musical is too good to be true.
"Jersey Boys" runs until October 16 at the Meralco Theater.