It’s been over 50 years since four boys from Jersey formed the hit 1960s band The Four Seasons, but their story continues inspiring audiences around the globe.
That story is being told once again as the four-time Tony-Award winning musical from Broadway comes to the Spokane Civic Theatre’s main stage. It’s rare for a community theater to stage a production as big as Jersey Boys, but thanks to a serendipitous series of events, Civic Creative Director Jake Schaefer made it happen.
An auspiciously timed visit by Schaefer to New York City and a network of connections, including Jersey Boys license-holder, ultimately landed the production for the Civic’s ongoing 75th season.
“There aren’t a million other community theaters that have done it,” Schaefer says of the show.
Schaefer has directed many shows at the Civic over the years, but Jersey Boys is special. This particular musical, he says, is “a total reflection of my person.”
Schaefer’s relationship to Jersey Boys began with his grandfather introducing him to The Four Seasons as a child.
Along with being a tribute to the cheery barbershop-style tunes that romanced the ’60s, Jersey Boys tells the story of four blue-collar men — Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi — using their talent and passion for music to rise from the streets of Newark and into eternal stardom. The men’s journey is fraught with trials, including gambling debts, Mafia threats and familial losses, which they overcome to create some of the most memorable hits of the decade.
As Schaefer puts it, Jersey Boys is a “story of people chasing their dreams.”
Having started as an actor at Spokane Civic Theatre in his youth and climbing the ranks to become a recording artist, producer and director at that very same theater, Schaefer identifies with the Season’s dedication to realizing their musical dreams.
Along with the inspiring story Jersey Boys tells, Schaefer says “the quality of music is timeless.”
Assistant Director Ryan Wasson agrees.
“I would describe Jersey Boys as the quintessential jukebox musical,” Wasson says. “Everyone at some point in their lives has heard The Four Seasons and their music, so audiences will enjoy getting this behind-the-scenes story of how their music came to be.”
The talented batch of actors cast as the story’s four protagonists — Daniel Renz as Valli, Nathan Hoyt as Massi, Jameson Elton as DeVito and Jonah Taylor as Gaudio — were handpicked by Schaefer, Wasson and Civic Music Director Henry McNulty to best represent the real Seasons.
“I think we’ve been very lucky with our cast,” McNulty says. “This group — particularly the core Four Seasons — have taken to the music very easily with a lot of commitment.”
Jersey Boys takes two unique musical approaches. Unlike other musicals, the actors playing the Four Seasons play instruments live while singing. McNulty directs six musicians behind the show’s set as opposed to playing in the pit orchestra.
“We felt that it would be more interesting and fitting for the show if the band were on stage and part of the visual at some points,” he says.
As daunting of a feat as playing instruments live is, the four leads are taking it in stride.
Singing lead vocals as Valli, Renz’s voice will be amplified “so it jumps out of the speaker,” Schaefer says.
Taylor and Hoyt each play the keyboard at different sections of the musical, while Elton channels the spirit of Tommy DeVito and serves up some guitar.
Along with being talented vocalists, actors and instrumentalists, the whole cast also learned choreographed dances to some of the musical’s most famous songs, including a stellar number during the show’s finale, “Who Loves You.”
Nineteen-year-old Renz has a soaring falsetto and captivating stage presence. In a room seating just 355 people, it feels as though Frankie Valli himself is looking you right in the eyes while singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
“It’s been one of the most heavy-hitter shows,” he says. “It’s really tested the limits on how far I could really go, [as far as] practicing every day and the commitment.”
As a budding actor, Renz says the role has been perfect for him.
“This is the most professional cast, and artistic team and crew I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “This really gave me a sense of what it’s like in the real world.” ♦
Jersey Boys • March 10-26; Wed-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2 pm • $10-$35 • Spokane Civic Theatre • 1020 N. Howard St. • spokanecivictheatre.com • 509-325-2507
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Article by Samantha Holm
Photograph by Chris Wooley