Theatre Is Easy: The “Jersey Boys” Phenomenon

Written by Theatre Is Easy

The other day I saw Jersey Boys, a Broadway musical unlike any other I’ve seen before. It’s not that the show itself was that phenomenally groundbreaking, or touching, or thought-provoking. And it’s not as if the cast, although they were quite good, were any more talented than any other ensemble out there. I’ve simply never before seen an audience so intensely connected with what was happening onstage.The Jersey Boys audience demographic is easy to pinpoint. If the performance I saw is any indication, I’d say 98 percent are upper-middle- to upper-class white folks between the ages of 50 and 65. The other 2 percent are conspicuously younger and tagging along with their parents/in-laws/sugar daddies. Yes, it’s true that the aforementioned demographic is pretty consistent for all Broadway shows, but there’s normally a younger and/or foreign faction in the audience too.

Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It’s a musical with very little dialogue, performed by what is essentially a really great Four Seasons cover band (although I fear some of the especially giddy audience members thought it was the real Four Seasons up there). Jersey Boys has officially been on Broadway for a couple of years now, and it won the Tony for Best New Musical in 2006. Although the buzz has died down significantly since it opened, Jersey Boys is still one of the hardest shows in town to get tickets for. I guess I should note that the reason I saw the show was because my boyfriend’s parents were in town and they bought our tickets — last summer.

Jersey Boys is still making scads of money and selling out regularly, in large part because it connects so deeply with its audience. As I sat there bopping my head and really enjoying the production, I still felt like I was missing out on something, like I wasn’t part of some inside secret. It was as if my fellow audience members were connected to the stage by a rope that was pulling them closer and closer until their happiness became audible, until they were literally singing along. I could see the flashbacks behind their eyes. Don’t get me wrong — I’m familiar with many of the Four Seasons’ songs and they remind me of fond times too, except that “Oh, What a Night” reminds me of summer camp and “Walk Like a Man” reminds me of Robin Williams in drag in Mrs. Doubtfire.

So this Jersey Boys experience got me thinking: if the Four Seasons’ songs can define a generation so fiercely that 40 years later this music incites weeping, what will represent me a few decades down the road? Here are some things I hope will not epitomize my generation: boy bands (from New Kids on the Block to ‘N Sync and every one in between), Boyz II Men’s Motownphilly, and the theme song from 90210. I did listen to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins during my formative years, but I’m not sure a Billy Corgan musical would be a big sell either.

Revolutionary movements like grunge and hip-hop certainly have their place in pop culture and music history, but it’s hard to tell if one band or act or artist can bring my generation together the way the Four Seasons entrances the baby boomers. Truthfully, I’m not sure there is one epitomizing band or sound or musical revolution that can sum up the ’90s, especially since music branched out into so many genres, and so much of it was overproduced anyway. Maybe someday we’ll see the Nirvana story with Frances Bean playing Courtney Love. But maybe it’s just as well if we don’t — my kids don’t need to see me reliving my teenage years as I sing along to “Come as You Are.”