Four blue-collar boys from New Jersey fought off the British Invasion with a winning sound that continues to resonate with audiences around the world.
And now that sound is riding into Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City from Friday (2/8) to Sunday (2/10) with the national tour of “Jersey Boys.”
Even though it’s classified as a jukebox musical, the show that swept up four 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is much more than that.
“It’s called a jukebox musical, but it’s more of a play with a concert,” said Corey Greenan, 39, who plays baritone vocalist and lead guitarist Tommy DeVito in the show. Except for a couple of the numbers, he said most of the songs are presented as performances within the production.
Greenan has previously toured with “Mamma Mia,” which is a true jukebox musical, where a story was created to string together ABBA’s hit parade in 1999.
“Jersey Boys” began with the same notion, buoyed by the success of “Mamma Mia,” Greenan said, but with the Four Seasons, truth proved more powerful than fiction.
“(The writers) were sitting around, trying to come up with some sort of story that might fit the music, but Bob (Gaudio) and Frankie (Valli) just started telling stories about growing up and some of their adventures, and then the writers were like, ‘Well, this is the show.’”
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From the jukebox side, audiences will hear the hits, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Let’s Hang On,” “Working My Way Back to You” and “Rag Doll.” The format also includes songs that didn’t rise as high, as well as songs by people and groups circling the Four Seasons’ world, like “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels, a girl band also rising out of New Jersey.
The show is divided into the four seasons of the group’s existence — spring to winter — with a narrator explaining each chapter. Greenan’s character leads off, talking about the pivotal role DeVito played in getting the ball rolling.
“He is the self-styled leader of the group,” Greenan said, but DeVito also is the one who brings the mob into play when he racks up a huge debt and a loan shark comes calling.
“He’s often referred to as the bad boy of the group. He does get himself into a lot of trouble, and eventually gets bought out of the band and is sent packing to Vegas so (the mob) can keep an eye on him while the debt is repaid,” Greenan said.
“A big part of story is about where these guys come from. They really did come from the pretty mean streets of Jersey, and I feel like Tommy and all of them never really got out of the streets. In spite of all of their success and all the places they went, he still had that aspect of his personality that didn’t work so well for him in the end. But I think it also gives him a certain amount of charm. (The Four Seasons) never would have got there without him.
A California native, Greenan grew up “about as far from Jersey as you can get,” he said by phone from a recent tour stop in El Paso, Texas. He’s been on the road with the show for three years, first in the ensemble, and for the past two years as DeVito — his favorite role “by far,” he said.
“It’s kind of freeing — it’s fun to put on that Tommy skin,” he said. “He comes out just like a shot out of a cannon. It’s hard to describe how to get into it. I just get to say the incredible words that he gets to say, and walk around without caring about what anyone thinks. And while it certainly got him into trouble, there was a reason people let him get as far as he did. There was a charm to him, for sure — that’s something that’s fun to bring to it.”
Greenan takes the lead on “Earth Angel,” but his favorite moment in the show comes during “Walk Like a Man.”
“Frankie’s downstage, we’ve gone through ‘the big three’ hits (“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”). They’ve definitely arrived and established themselves as serious pop stars at this point. Frankie’s down there singing at the mic, the three of us turn upstage, turn back down, and start walk downstage singing that last chorus of ‘Walk Like a Man.’
“There’s a feeling of arrival at that moment. The group, in spite of all its differences, has come together and has officially made it. It’s such a moment of validation — not only for them but all the guys they grew up with on the street. Anyone who worked for years and years and years for their dreams. It’s a moment they’re all there together, having really proven themselves,” he said. “It gives me chills a lot.”
Those chills multiply every time he steps onstage.
“No matter where we go, people respond to it in such a wonderful way,” he said.
Hitting 79 cities in the past 10 and a half months is tiring, but the audience perks him back up, every time.
“There’s something about this show. No matter what town in America or Canada where we find ourselves, the reaction is always really insane. It’s really enthusiastic, it’s really supportive,” he said. “The energy of the show and the aspect when the guys are telling their story — that really energizes you.
“The audience essentially is another character that you’re interacting with, to a certain extent. You just realize you’re talking directly to these people, you’re telling a story. That makes it fresh every night, because you’re looking at all these faces that are responding to it in different ways, with enjoyment, amusement, curiosity.
“You’re seeing people experiencing the music for the millionth time and you’re seeing people experiencing it for first time. It kind of keeps itself fresh, but obviously, we’ve got to show up and do our thing, too.”
So what put this group ahead of others in its day, and keeps audiences embracing the music and story nearly six decades later?
“I can’t speak for the atmosphere when they were around the first time,” Greenan said. “When Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe were writing (songs for the Four Seasons), they certainly created a sound.
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“There were two bands that survived the arrival of the Beatles on the pop charts — and that was the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys,” he said. “(The Four Seasons) had such a distinct sound, not only with Frankie’s falsetto, but also with the amazing harmonies that they would put together. It was just really good pop music that really spoke to people. And then, that sort of incorporated into the general zeitgeist like Tommy said — radio, TV, commercials — they’re all over the place. I think that speaks to the accessibility of it, as well.”
Fans, however, didn’t know all the back story and shady goings-on back in the ’60s.
“That’s why the success of this show in particular is so great,” Greenan said. “It tells us the story, so you learn something from this show.”
WHAT: “Jersey Boys”
WHERE: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
WHEN: Friday (2/8) to Sunday (2/10); 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $65 to $90; Hancher Box Office, (319) 335-1160, 1-(800) HANCHER or Hancher.uiowa.edu/2018-19/JerseyBoys
SHOW WEBSITE: Jerseyboysinfo.com/tour/