Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jersey Boys: A Shout-Out to the Boomers

by Pa Rock
Theatre Critic

I want to talk about Jersey Boys, the Las Vegas version, but before going there please permit me a few housekeeping (I wish!) chores: First, I am safely back in the Valley of Hell, driving six-hours and two-hundred and seventy-seven miles today pretty much nonstop, but with a brief car-exit to take pictures at Hoover Dam, and a couple of desert-pullovers to snap some shots of Joshua Trees and assorted cacti.

The highlight of yesterday's activities was getting to meet Reed's new lady friend, Miss Jamie Carey, a native of Montana who teaches second grade in Nevada. She's a sweetie, Reed!

I managed to set a couple of records in Vegas last night with regard to money. I needed cash (welcome to Las Vegas!), and Reed warned me that the ATM would hit me for a $3.00 fee. I didn't like that, but I've paid that much before in such exotic locales as Phoenix and Neosho, so I manned-up and fed the machine my ATM card. The actual fee was $4.25 - my new record! But the evening soon got better when I won $150 at a penny slot machine - and managed to walk away with $140 of it! "Penny slots" are a misnomer. Yes, you can spin the wheel for one cent, but the winnings on that are minute. There are two rows of buttons where the player can select the number of lines he wants to play - 1-9 - and the magnitude of the prize - 1 through 20. I won the $150 on a nine-line bet that payed out at a force of twenty - or a $1.80 bet. Penny, indeed! Anyway, that was my record for most profit gambling. My Sis also made $55 on the slots, so we were in a good mood to see Jersey Boys!

I was somewhat hesitant about going to see Jersey Boys in Las Vegas because I knew it couldn't live up to Broadway standards, and I didn't want to detract from the experience that I had seeing the show for the first time in New York a few short weeks ago. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about in that regard.

The production was in the sparkling new Palazzo Theatre at the Venetian. The theatre is immense, accommodating at least twice the numbers as the older theatre in New York had seated. And the acoustics were extraordinary, with every note coming through crystal clear and pure to the farthest corners of the venue.

I am troubled to admit this, but this production was at least as good as its Broadway counterpart. The young man who played Frankie Valli, in particular, was mesmerizing, both in acting ability and singing talent. As we were leaving the theatre people around us were making comparisons with other Jersey Boys productions that they had seen. One man was raving that it was so much better than the version that played recently in Chicago, and a lady was going on-and-on telling everyone within earshot that it was so much better than the Minneapolis version. Minneapolis? (I wonder if it starred Garrison Keillor?)

Listening to the audience react during the show by clapping to the music, tapping their feet, and even singing along, I realized that Jersey Boys is fast becoming the musical of the baby boomer generation. Yes, we had Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar, and iconic concerts like Woodstock - and we had anthems like Me and Bobby McGee, Aquarius, and the Jimi Hendrix version of The Star Spangled Banner. But none of those efforts touched young America with the same intensity and pervasiveness as the Four Seasons.

There is a line in the show that I didn't write down - so this is a rough re-statement. Frankie Valli tells the audience that while the fans of the British groups were trying to "levitate the Pentagon," fans of the Four Seasons were waiting America's tables, driving her trucks, and going off to fight in Vietnam.

Those are the people who are going to see this musical - many, like me - for multiple performances. The boomers have found their voice - and its a Jersey falsetto!

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