Stage preview: 'Jersey Boys' gets under the skin


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From rough streets and humble beginnings in New Jersey came the Four Seasons, a boy band that topped the pop charts during a chunk of the 1960s. Forty years later, the band's music and compelling backstory conquered Broadway as the "Jersey Boys," the global phenomenon that has piled on awards and box-office records since it opened on Nov. 6, 2005.

"Jersey Boys" continues to pack New York's August Wilson Theatre and will soon add South Africa and Singapore to homes in Las Vegas, London and Australia. One of two North American tours arrives Tuesday for its second stay at the Benedum Center.

PG VIDEO: JERSEY BOYS INVADE PG

The man who keeps the plates spinning -- casting, scheduling, rehearsals -- is Richard Hester, the production supervisor who honed his craft with huge touring shows such as "Wicked" and "Phantom of the Opera." He's been with "Jersey Boys" for all of its seven years, although in the past he'd never stayed at a job beyond two.

"There's something about 'Jersey Boys' that it is such a miraculous piece of work. I don't ever get bored, although I've seen it thousands of times," Mr. Hester said.

Chart-topping hits such as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," created by Bob Gaudio and powered by Frankie Valli's falsetto, are a big part of the attraction for those who grew up with the Four Seasons' music. The award-winning book by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, which takes the quartet from shady early years in Jersey to musical peaks to financial and emotional lows, elevates the show far beyond your typical jukebox musical.

Gathering casts that can replicate the Four Seasons' harmony is no easy task. Mr. Hester said that an audition for the part of Frankie can start with hundreds of possibilities. When the number reaches 120 who have the voice, the moves and the acting chops, the next stop is Frankie Camp.

'Jersey Boys'

Where: PNC Broadway Across America -- Pittsburgh at Benedum Center, Downtown.

When: Tuesday through Sept. 23. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $29-$143.25; 412-456-4800 or trustarts.org.

"That's how we tell if they'll have the charisma, the magnetism. So from that 120, we may get one or two who hopefully can step into the role."

With the show's expansion, there will be 29 Frankies ready to go on at any one time. Most shows have three: one who plays the role six times a week, one who plays another role then performs as Frankie for two shows, plus one more who can hit all the right notes.

Of the thousands of performances Mr. Hester has observed, he said a memorable one was on Broadway and involved a drummer and drum kit on a stand that moved in harmony with scenic fences, with two people coordinating the timing. During one sold-out show, the fence became stuck in place and, as the drummer jumped to safety, equipment came crashing onto the stage.

"In my memory of it, all you could hear was one cymbal going ...," and here Mr. Hester re-created the sound of a cymbal clattering toward silence.

"I got on the microphone and told the audience, 'We have a slight technical problem.' Any time I think my head might be getting too big, I just remind myself of that."

theater

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. First Published September 2, 2012 4:00 AM


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