"Jersey Boys" is making a return engagement to the Orpheum, bringing the memorable tunes of The Four Seasons and enough sharp writing and storytelling to make the production more than a collection of hits.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice wrote the book, and their approach and style make all the difference. They found the story of the rise, peak and breakup of the group to be compelling and they gave it a Rashomon-like narrative, with each of the four members telling their own version of the tale.
The result is a story arc with changing perceptions, but with plenty of the songs that to this day have that pure pop appeal; the group has sold 175 million records, after all. For a production with so many songs, however, there is a lot of dialogue, and it is as catchy as the tunes.
That's thanks in large part to Brickman and Elice, who had not only a feel for the story but the creative chops to make it pop. Brickman has famously written for Woody Allen and "The Tonight Show," and both writers know their way around storylines and one-liners.
The Orpheum production moves along smartly with a surprising variety to scenes that are little more than four guys singing or moving around. But the set uses a two-level staircase, and a rear projection of slides, film and live action shots with great inventiveness. One effective scene has the group with their backs to the real audience singing to an imaginary crowd upstage.
The performers are fine, conveying plenty of energy and wit. The arrangements are carefully re-created from the original and not "Broadwayed up," as Elice puts it, so what you hear is what you heard on the radio back in the day. The singing reminds us of the groups' vocals but doesn't quite replicate them, and sometimes the punch is missing.
While there are some tough issues addressed in the musical — temptation was everywhere for young men with fame and money — it's useful to keep in mind that two of the surviving members approved every aspect of the show. Frankie Valli — he of the extraordinary four-octave range — and Bob Gaudio who wrote the hits still co-own the rights to the group and music.
And while the music is pleasantly pop and OK for any ears, be advised that the language used by those boys from New Jersey gets pretty rough. A warning in the lobby advises that "Flashing strobe lights, loud gunfire and authentic, profane, Jersey vocabulary are special effects used in this production ..."
Performances through Dec. 16 at the Orpheum Theatre, 203 S. Main. Tickets: from $28.50. Call 901-525-3000 or go to orpheum-memphis.com.