Boys is a hit on opening night in Vegas

In advance of its Toronto premiere, three Canadians help make this musical about The Four Seasons a 'hats-in-the-air triumph'

May 05, 2008
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN

LAS VEGAS–The Boys took the town on Saturday night.

The Las Vegas premiere of Jersey Boys at the elegant new Palazzo Hotel was the cheering, stomping, hats-in-the-air triumph everybody hoped it would be, largely thanks to the efforts of three Canadians: Des McAnuff, Sergio Trujillo and Jeremy Kushnier.

This bio-drama of the popular 1960s vocal group The Four Seasons could have been just one more jukebox musical, were it not for director McAnuff's insistence on strong dramatic values.

Sure, the show still moves "like a joyride in a stolen Cadillac," as I described the original production, but repeated viewings reveal that this is a solid story about love, loss, success and compromise with enough dramatic meat to send any serious theatre fan home happy.

For that, hand the laurel wreath to Jeremy Kushnier. The Winnipeg-born performer plays bad guy Tommy DeVito, whose gambling excesses destroy the group.

From the second the show starts, Kushnier is in total control, giving a performance of such depth and complexity that you start to feel there is nothing he couldn't do.

On the red carpet, before the opening performance, I approached the real DeVito and told him I had heard Kushnier was great playing him.

"Come see me after the show," he growled in true wiseguy fashion, "and I'll tell you what I think."

At the opening-night party later, DeVito caught my eye across the room, giving me a beaming grin and two thumbs up.

This production also reveals how skilled the choreography of Trujillo is. The quartet he works with here are better dancers than the original Broadway cast and Trujillo makes full use of it, polishing his moves till they positively shimmer.

I sat next to Frankie Valli during the performance and it was hard not to look at his face as the bittersweet story of his life flashed in front of him.

When the quartet finally make it big with "Sherry," Valli's hands were above his head, clapping approval. And when his daughter dies of a drug overdose in Act II, he had to look away from the stage.

"Yeah, it's tough," he said after the show. "There's some moments I still find it hard to watch."

All three surviving members of the real band were there to lend their approval, including Valli, DeVito and Bob Gaudio, as well their original producer, Bob Crewe.

Other members of the eclectic opening-night Vegas crowd included fellow classic crooner Frankie Avalon, Michael Urie from Ugly Betty, Spamalot star John O'Hurley and former Monty Python member John Cleese, there with an attention-grabbing statuesque blonde who proved to be his daughter Camilla.

At the party afterwards, McAnuff looked around at the bustling scene and laughed.

It was just 24 hours ago I was at a dress rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford and now I'm here. But this is how I like it. I want musicals and Shakespeare to always be a part of my life."

Dancap Productions brings Jersey Boys to the Toronto Centre for the Arts starting Aug. 21 and I suggest you buy your tickets now.

This show is a winner.