IF YOU GO
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 8099 College Parkway, Fort Myers
When: Through March 7; call for times and dates
Tickets: $110 at bbmannpah.com, (800) 440-7469 or (239) 481-4849
NAPLES — Behind every great man is a great woman, so the saying goes. For Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, as recounted in the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys,” 46 great women were behind the blue-collar-kids-turned-musical-superstars.
Don’t expect a huge ensemble cast with that number at Barbara B. Mann Performing Art Hall’s presentation of the rock and roll-charged biography, however.
Meet the Jersey Girls: Sarah Darling, Denise Payne and Kara Tremel. You were expecting more, perhaps?
The Four Seasons’ whirlwind rise to fame — 175 million records sold and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status — is reflected in a carefully orchestrated backstage costuming maelstrom culminating in 16 changes for Darling, 18 for Payne and 12 for Tremel. There are 49 wigs involved.
Not that they’ve timed it, but the women know who has the quickest of the quick changes: Tremel has one costume transformation that must take place within a 10-second window.
If you’re thinking wardrobe malfunction, not to worry. These are trained professionals, according to Payne.
“We have a great team that runs the show, very highly organized. We haven’t really had too many problems.” That’s great, considering the girls have to run up and down stairs in high heels.
The male leads have some big shoes to fill, too, of course. Not only must they embody those guys from the wrong side of the tracks turned pop icons, but they’re charged with the care and feeding of those songs. You know, those songs: “Sherry,” “Rag Doll,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry”?
No lip synching here, folks. These boys do their own stunts.
Too good to be true
It’s the dizzying blizzard of tulle, crinoline, wigs and sequins behind the scenes that completes the illusion and sets the stage for the romance, ambition, jealousy and anger always simmering just below the surface.
“It’s the story of what people wouldn’t know, how things went down,” Tremel said, whose roles include Valli’s first wife, Mary Delgado (a multi-dimensional character in herself), who vacillates between forced bravado and guarded vulnerability.
“There was gambling, drinking; there are arrests. It would be like watching ‘TMZ’ today,” she said, referring to the celebrity tell-all TV show and Web site.
Darling plays Lorriane, a fictional composite of a girlfriend to the Valli character, among others. She agreed, “There’s a lot of general life stuff. (The Four Seasons) had their successes, but also their failures when they were really struggling.”
“But the songs keep coming,” Tremel added.
What’s in a song?
Far from a sterilized musical revue dripping with bubble gum-flavored nostalgia, “Jersey Boys,” scripted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, offers the back story straight up. Whether they know they want it or not, even those who grew up with the music will have an opportunity to experience it in a new way.
Among her other roles, Payne plays Valli’s troubled daughter, Francine, a serial runaway who dies of a drug overdose. She added that some of the most famous songs were written during the time when the group was defining itself and suffering pain.
“I think people do appreciate the music so much, but then to learn the background. ... They get really attached to the characters,” she reflected.
The more the group churns out the hits, it seems, the more personal blows the members seem to sustain. That presumably is what makes the story so compelling. It’s no silver spoon tale, but one where grit and determination ultimately prevail when talent alone simply would not. If it were easy, there might not be so much to tell.
But what would have happened without the girls? With so many roles between just a few players, the show reflects the many different ways men are inspired, challenged, frustrated and exhilarated by the women in their lives.
Who loves you?
Southwest Florida has demonstrated an appetite for the show to match the real Jersey Boys’ fabled proclivity for the ladies. The Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall has even taken the unusual step of opening up some seats in the orchestra pit to accommodate the demand.
The musical is here through March 7.
Sure, the region has more that its fair share of Baby Boomers. However, as the Jersey Girls contend, the music transcends generational lines.
“I feel like every generation really does recognize it,” said Payne, whose junior prom theme song was “Oh, What a Night.” She pointed out the preponderance of commercials that borrow the Four Seasons’ signature sound.
The Tony Award-winning show, now in its fifth year, is also doing no small part in keeping the songs relevant and recognizable.
The timing may simply be perfect.
”It’s definitely a good show for the state of things in our world right now,” said Darling.
The rough-and-tumble Jersey Boys created an indelible mark on music under less than perfect circumstances; their musical biography offers a vivid trip down the road on which they learned to “Walk Like a Man.”
Or like a hard-working Jersey girl.