Musical and comedy provide post-holiday cheer

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta


The cast of “Is He Dead?” includes (clockwise from left) Scott Rider of Lincoln Park as the Emperor of Russia; James Kirwan of Dearborn as Bastien Andre; Paul Bruce of Dearborn as the Actor; John Hutchison of Dearborn as the Sultan of Turkey; Nancy Schuster of Livonia as Madame Bathilde; Kori Bielaniec of Dearborn as Cecile; Sydnee Dombrowski of Dearborn as Marie Leroux; Phil Booth of Dearborn as O’Shaughnessy; Brian Townsend of Dearborn as Jean-Francois Millet; and Alex Godjov of Dearborn as Chicago.

By Sue Suchyta
If you want to get those Christmas carols out of your head, head down to the Fisher Theatre for “Jersey Boys” – a musical story chronicling the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

And when you’re ready for a hearty dose of laughter and affordable escapism, head over to the Players Guild of Dearborn for the side-splitting laughter inspired by the Mark Twain comedy “Is He Dead?”

In less than three weeks the Guild will launch the first community theater production in Michigan of the recently discovered comedy. The show features the seasoned local comic talent team of Brian Townsend and Alex Godjov, as well as a strong ensemble cast.

While the play is not yet well known, early buzz among local actors is that the show will leave audiences roaring with laughter. That sounds like a well deserved break for stalwart metro Detroiters.

The show will run for three weekends: Jan. 15 through 17, Jan. 22 through 24 and Jan. 29 through 31. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m.

The Players Guild of Dearborn theater is located at 21730 Madison in Dearborn. Tickets are $15. Student discounts of $2 (with valid I.D.) are available. For more information, call the Guild ticket line at (313) 561-TKTS, or visit their web site at www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

THE STORY OF FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS
Chances are you’ve had one of their songs stuck in your head in the past, a song you associate with a rite of passage, a summer romance or a nostalgic life event.

For some, it’s “December 1963 (Oh What a Night).” For others, it’s, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” or “Walk Like a Man.”

Maybe you slow danced to “My Eyes Adored You,” or “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Or perhaps you fast danced or flirted to, “Working My Way Back to You” or “Who Loves You?”

There’s a Frankie Valli/Four Seasons song that bring back memories from the ’60s to the present day, and a musical mood that survived the British invasion and other trends that have come and gone. The music makes its way into soundtracks and iPods, and boomers and even GenXers have some memory tied to their words and melodies. Interestingly, even the buzz among locals on Facebook has been strong and positive.

The show’s creators have taken each of the seasons – spring, summer, fall and winter – and given each of the four Jersey Boys a chance to spin their version of the record.

In Act I, Tommy DeVito gives us spring, when the guys were looking for their ticket out of New Jersey, where the military, the mob and the movies were three choices. DeVito spent time in prison, and if he didn’t have his music, he might have become a career criminal. Even so, his compulsive gambling and other destructive habits hurt him and those around him immeasurably. We only see the beginning of that in Act I, though.

Bob Gaudio takes summer and completes the foursome with his songwriting talent. He had a one-hit wonder at age 15 before he joined the group – “(Who Wears) Short Shorts.” The group is now complete, and has three hits in a row: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like A Man.” Their lives take off – but with fame and fortunes come many personal pitfalls.

After intermission, Act 2 begins with Nick Massi taking on fall as he tells his version of the story. The group discovers DeVito’s massive gambling debts. Valli and Gaudio pledge to make good on DeVito’s debt on their own – a staggering undertaking.

Winter – the last of the four seasons – is explained by Valli. He and Gaudio are left after DeVito self-destructs behaviorally and Massi walks away, weary with the world. Gaudio puts him out front as a headliner, and focuses on songwriting. The two pay off DeVito’s debts, and keep to their handshake promise made years before.

“Jersey Boys” is more of a mood and journey piece than a biographical chronicle. It blends the songs well to tell the group’s storyline and at the same time explaining the inspiration for the song itself. It humanizes four young men thrown into fame, and how each thrived or dived.

The production runs at the Fisher Theatre through Jan. 23. Tickets are on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office, all TicketMaster locations, by phone at (800) 982-2787, and online at www.ticketmaster.com or www.broadwayindetroit.com.

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