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‘Jersey Boys,’ reopening at Paris Las Vegas, feels like new show for cast, crew

One of the opening lines of “Jersey Boys” states a central theme: “You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.”

But if you have lunch with five guys (because two share the role of Frankie Valli), you find little to argue about. If they see eye to eye, it’s because most of them have worked together a long time now in the Broadway hit. So long that when Rob Marnell stepped up from the chorus to play Bob Gaudio, life mirrored his character, the final but most crucial ingredient of the Four Seasons.

The choreographer told him, “OK Rob, you know the steps, but really start checking in with these guys. And seeing even more how much you can match them.”

“Naturally they’ve been doing this so long they have that vibe going and have that band vibe established,” Marnell says. “It’s one thing I’m trying to tune into and one of the challenging things about being a newbie.”

But the Broadway hit moving a mile down the Strip, to reopen at Paris Las Vegas on Tuesday, is a fresh start for everyone, even those who launched the musical at the Palazzo in early 2008.

Cast and crew used a six-week break to reautomate the stagecraft and adapt the choreography for a Paris stage that’s 12 feet wider. “What’s been great for us is we’ve had the luxury of having all of our creative team here,” says Travis Cloer who rotates the role of Frankie Valli with Graham Fenton. Along with the technical cues, “They’ve been saying to us, ‘Think about it this way. Play it this way.’ So for me, it feels like a completely brand new show.”

Adds Jeff Leibow, who opened the Palazzo run as Nick Massi, “We’ve all had to adapt when new people come along … but never do we get this kind of attention. Where the creative team is saying, ‘Now that we’re here again, let’s re-evaluate.’ ” It’s rare with an established, much-franchised hit to “revisit all the information that’s underneath what we do.”

“It’s a breath of fresh air, which I think we needed.”

But they also needed some food on this rehearsal day. There was no spaghetti, no red-checkered tablecloths or chianti-bottle candles at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. But there was a killer view and an actual round table for a round-table discussion, the highlights of which are digested below.

The chemistry of repetition

“Jersey Boys” tells the not-usually flattering story of how the Four Seasons were born from petty crime in a tough neighborhood, and how success strained lifelong friendships.

Cloer: When you look at old footage of (the original Seasons), what we’re doing now is a lot more dancing than they ever did. They didn’t dance at all. They might have step-touched, snapped a couple of times, but that’s about it. (“Jersey Boys”) kind of jazzed it up a little bit.

Leibow: The creative team has done a really good job of forcing the idea, “You guys are a group.” … Even when we were all new, we all had to find ways to feel like we’ve known these guys for years. Tommy (DeVito) and Nick knew each other well over a decade before the group hit.

Deven May, who plays DeVito: They lived their life together, they were best friends. Got arrested together, stole stuff together. Helped little old ladies across the street together.

Fenton: It helps we all like each other, too.

May: But it’s early, you know? (They laugh.) That is what’s so great about what we’re afforded to be able to do, which is become friends and become closer than probably most careers and places would give you the opportunity to do.

Not Guys & Dolls

Director Des McAnuff and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice bypassed conventional Broadway structure in favor of a cinematic pace to tell a story many compared to VH1’s “Behind the Music.”

Marnell: It’s not your typical fluffy, in-your-face kind of spectacle (that) people think of what music theater is. It’s much more real.

May: Des McAnuff said to us, “It’s a play with music.” We’re telling the story of four blue-collar guys who rose up. The music just happens to be there. If we were chefs, we’d be cooking all the time.

Fenton: You rarely see the guys performing onstage unless it’s in a rehearsal or concert setting.

Cloer: The only two moments that we really don’t see a performance, that we see something going on internally, is that moment when Frankie’s daughter passes away (“Fallen Angel”), and in the first act when his first wife leaves (“My Eyes Adored You”). We were specifically told not to perform those songs, to feel those songs inside. If we don’t even want to look at the audience, we don’t even have to face them.

May: We like to look at this as having the intensity and the closeness of film. We’ve been told, “You’re in a Scorsese film. You’re not in ‘Guys & Dolls.’ ”

Cloer: On Broadway, there were times we’d have note sessions and they’d say, “You’re getting a little too Broadway for what we’re doing here.”

Repeat business

Since its Broadway debut in 2005, “Jersey Boys” has spun off into several companies (the latest in New Zealand) and attracted nontraditional theater goers.

Leibow: One of the most amazing things that I’ve seen from this (is) the guys that say, “I’ve never seen a musical in my life. My wife had to drag me here. My family had to drag me here.” And you can still see the tears in their eyes. They took the ride with us.

Cloer: I’ve never really been involved with something that has that emotional power, to be able to snap people out of hard times and the crap that’s going on in their lives and take them to a time when the music was better.

Leibow: There’s always somebody that catches your eye (from the stage). A couple holding hands in the front row. You could tell they were of the era, probably early in their relationship when this music hit. … They were going back to their very first date. It takes people back to a different time when going out on a date was different. You dressed up. … I think that’s what’s amazing about how nostalgic this show is.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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