photo by Frank Aymami
Under the Boardwalk
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons have enjoyed a revival in recent years, including being the subject of Jersey Boys, a Broadway musical recently turned movie. (The actual Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons perform at the Saenger Theatre Aug. 6; the show Under the Streetlamp featuring members of the Broadway show comes to Harrah's New Orleans Aug. 14-16). At Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, the Big Easy Buddies close their musical revue Under the Boardwalk with a tribute to The Four Seasons, and it's the highlight of the show.
The Big Easy Buddies premiered the revue of 1950s and '60s pop hits at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts in January. When Le Petit lost the rights to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was scheduled to close the theater's current season, it opted to present a reprise of the Buddies' revue. (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be presented by Broadway in New Orleans at the Saenger Theater in April 2015.)
The Big Easy Buddies includes seven male vocalists, and a rotating cast of four appear in each performance. There's also an interlude featuring three women costumed as a glamorous Supremes-style girl group who sing a medley including "Stop! in the Name of Love" and "You Keep Me Hangin' On."
The opening night Buddies cast included Richard Arnold, who created the show with Kasey Marino, Jonathan Brannan, Frank Von Hoven and Michael Taravella. The group harmonized well and hit its stride in the higher registers required for The Four Seasons' material ("Sherry," "Rag Doll," "Walk Like a Man" and "Who Loves You"). They aimed for and generally hit the mark on faithful renditions of songs by The Beach Boys and Four Seasons. The first half of the show opened with some doo-wop songs ("Blue Moon" and "I Wonder Why") and then delved into the Motown catalog. The Buddies worked through a slew of hits by The Temptations and Four Tops, but in spite of their enthusiasm struggled to hit the right tone on many.
The foursome acknowledged its mission to pull nostalgic heartstrings, best illustrating members' atavistic leap to their parents' generation's music by introducing "Earth Angel (You Will Be Mine)" with references to its use in the movie Back to the Future. Marvin Gaye's Motown recording of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was introduced with references to 1980s California Raisin Advisory Board advertisements. The group hammed it up between songs, and after soliciting dedications at intermission, the four clustered around former City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson to serenade her with The Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl." Some bits, such as bringing out a teddy bear to sing "Mister Sandman," were too gimmicky and cute.
The Buddies often sing in the theater aisles and address the audience directly, and their earnest enthusiasm is charming. It's a satisfying show for folks who love the music of that era and want to clap and sing along.