Oh, what a musical!
Even if you don't know Frankie Valli from Vivaldi, it's hard to resist the Broadway smash "Jersey Boys" which has catapulted the music of the Four Seasons back into the limelight. Four blue collar boys who clawed their way to stardom, these lads sold 175 million records before they turned 30. Now their lives, loves and lyrics are celebrated in this Tony-winning hit.
After being seen by more than 40 million people worldwide, the tuner -- with Des McAnuff's witty direction, Sergio Trujillo's snappy choreography and such songs as "Big Girls Don't Cry" -- has bopped back into San Francisco for an eight-week run at the Curran Theatre.
In honor of the occasion, we decided to take peek behind the scenes to see how a Broadway blockbuster comes to life. Join us in the wings for a 2 p.m. matinee of one of the biggest hits to come down the New Jersey turnpike since the "Sopranos." Consider this your free backstage pass (story continues below):
12:39 p.m.: Stage manager Larry Baker mans the callboard before the matinee. It's his sixth year on the road but he's still a huge fan of the show. There are now seven touring companies with about 50 folks per troupe. "This is a great show, and the money is great, but living on the road means making sacrifices," he says. His job is half-cruise director, half-parent. Not only is he responsible for making sure the show goes off without a hitch, he is on call 24/7. If an actor breaks their ankle at 2 a.m., it's his job to make sure they get cared for and an understudy is prepped to take their place.
1:05 p.m.: The Curran has zilch space backstage which makes running a musical as big and splashy as "Jersey Boys" a lot like staging the Olympics in a bathtub. An army of actors, stagehands, dressers and techies have to squeeze within its cramped dimensions. It's absolute chaos with no room to maneuver and never a minute to spare until the curtain goes down.
The basement is a hive of activity. The costume department manages 9,000 pieces of wardrobe, makes its own vintage style shirts and does up to 26 loads laundry a day. It's overseen by wardrobe mistress Gerbie Connolly -- who travels with her pet bunny, Peanut Butter.
1:30 p.m.: The actors straggle into the stage door at an hour before the curtain goes up. This is the start of a two-show day. The cast goes through its paces eight times a week. Quite a marathon.
Baker makes sure the cast and crew feel at home in the Curran. He tells the veterans the 1922 beauty was the sight of the classic theater movie "All About Eve" and the young'uns that it's the birthplace of "Wicked."
1:45 p.m.: The chemistry on stage sure isn't faked because there's real camaraderie in the teensy dressing rooms. Schlepping from city to city, far from family and friends, the actors bond in their own little backstage tribe. Nick Cosgrove usually plays the famous falsetto Frankie Valli. But today Valli is being played by understudy Miguel Jarquin-Moreland. There's also John Gardiner, who once had lunch with Valli, playing the tough-talking hothead Tommy DeVito. They share the limelight with Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi and Miles Jacoby as Bob Gaudio. Jacoby is a newbie with only 7 months in the show. He loves that they always celebrate birthdays during the intermission.
2:08 p.m.: Talk about the need for speed. The actors dash from one side of the theater to the other during what they call the "basement run" after the opening number. Though the musical has been trotting around the globe since its 2006 Broadway debut, McAnuff's production still purrs like the engine on a muscle car. Props, sets, actors move in a highly choreographed ballet. If you stand in the wrong place, you may get whacked by a piano.
2:16 p.m.: Jarquin-Moreland drops his pants backstage. Some actors have 17 quick changes. No room for shyness in the wings.
2:20 p.m.: The show's three actresses play more than 50 parts. Leslie Taylor alone hops through 16 roles, each of which seem to come with its own wig -- one of 70 wigs in the show.
2:22 p.m.: Gardiner says you can tell how well show will go by the crowd's reaction to F word in the first few scenes. If they laugh, you're gold. His character, Tommy DeVito, is known for his colorful turns of phrase. After 1,800 performances, he still gets high off the score.
2:34 p.m.: "Short shorts" blaring. It's freezing backstage. Jonathan Hadley, who plays producer Bob Crewe, is getting his wig tweaked backstage. He makes a point of seeing the sights on tour. Today he visited the Jewish Museum and came back with a yarmulke.
2:52 p.m.: The boys give their all during what they call the "Big 3," when they sing their biggest three songs, "Sherry," "Girls Don't Cry," "Walk like a Man" in a row. Your voice gets a little sore just listening to them reach for those high notes.
3:02 p.m.: Stage manager Baker hums along with the score. It's the soundtrack of a generation, he says, "music that has played a part in people's lives."
3:20 p.m.: Intermission. The cast puts its feet up for a few minutes while the audience imbibes and the technical crew exhales. Everybody relaxes in their own way. Jacoby checks in on Facebook. Some grab a smoke in the alley. Others eavesdrop on the audience.
3:35 p.m.: Places for top of act 2, no rest for the weary. Baker's got tons of war stories. The biggest tech snafu ever? The time in Buffalo when rats chewed through power lines. The show went on anyway.
3:40 p.m.: Jarquin-Moreland is talking college basketball just moments before going onstage as Valli. Apparently, he has Indiana in the NCAA tournament.
3:45 p.m.: Quick change in the wings, stage right: Nine seconds from cop to accountant.
3:52 p.m.: Jonathan Smith, aka Smitty, the conductor, takes a rare break. It's a luxurious 2 minutes. That's not enough even enough time for a trip to the bathroom.
4:12 p.m.: It's time for another big run when the four boys dash through the basement to get from stage left to stage right. All you can hear is the thunder of footsteps roaring past. Now, it's a race to the finish.
4:27 p.m.: The backup singers stand in the wings, shooting the breeze with each other while keeping one ear on the show for their cue. They never miss a beat.
4: 30 p.m.: The crowd erupts during the musical's explosive finale, the showstopping "Who Loves You." Afterwards, the audience is elated, the cast spent. The actors fly off the stage, scrub the those thick layers of stage make up off their faces and jump into their street clothes.
4:49 p.m.: Exit stage left. Jersey boys and girls hit the street to soak up a little R&R. This is time to grab dinner, hit the gym or Skype with family and friends back home.
Of course, they can't go very far before heading back to the theater to do it all again. The cast gets three hours off; the crew only 90 minutes. The countdown begins to the evening show.
Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza, follow her at Twitter.com/KarenDSouza4 and like her at Facebook.com/Dsouzatheaterpage.
Through: April 28
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $45-$210 (subject to change), 888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com ___
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