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Theater Reviews and Commentary from Karen Salkin

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I had waited with bated breath for the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys” to arrive at the Ahmanson Theatre this season. And I wasn’t disappointed. Except a tad at the end. More on that later.

The whole event was exciting right from the very beginning. There were so many VIPs in the audience on opening night that no one minded when the show started a little late. Watching everyone get seated was like a prologue.

I’m rarely excited to see someone famous in person, but I noticed that when Eddie Murphy sat down, I involuntarily nudged Mr. X. In all my years of attending major events such as this one, I realize that I’ve never seen him in person. I never would have thought that I’d even be interested in him, but I found out that I was. He seemed like he was really pleasant to everyone, which was nice to observe.

Speaking of exciting, Joe Pesci was there, who many people don’t know was instrumental in putting The Four Seasons together back in the day. Debbie Reynolds was representing classic Hollywood. And the non-aging Frankie Avalon was as handsome as archival footage from the 50s(!!!) show him to be back then. Why can’t we all age like this guy? (Or even why can’t just I?)

jersey boys
JERSEY BOYS: Michael Ingersoll, Deven May, Christopher Kale Jones, Erich Bergen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Now for the show. For those of you have lived under a rock for the past two years, “Jersey Boys” is the story of the 60s singing quartet The Four Seasons. Even if you’re a kid now, you would recognize many of their iconic songs. It was great to hear them in person, and performed by such excellent singers as these actors are, especially Christopher Kale Jones, playing Frankie Valli, whose voice I totally loved. (Although, I think that perhaps, since this guy was the second tallest person on stage, they should have removed the references to Mr. Valli’s short stature in this production. The poor actor is going to give himself a Dowager’s Hump from stooping over for almost three hours a night!)

As great as it all was, it bothered me just a little to hear others sing famous songs, rather than the original guys. Though this is a stage play, and far from a cover group, it still irked me the teensiest bit. Reminds me slightly of Beatlemania, on the smallest level.

karen and frankie
Karen with Frankie Valli in October 2006

The positives of the show far outweigh the negatives, though they’re semi-intertwined. While the script was amusing and entertaining, I did a lot of research on the group for this column, and many of the stories portrayed on the stage don’t jibe with those accounts. I know there’s artistic license allowed, but now I don’t know if they’ve taken it or if the research results are false. I’ve heard from the actual mouths of the writers and Mr. Valli and Mr. Gaudio (at a press luncheon that I wrote about in November; check my archives, if you like) that they all worked together on this, so the story on stage should be the correct one, but who knows? I hate not knowing what’s really true and what’s not.

[Sidebar: I watch a lot of movie biographies, and they get me crazy, too. I hate when I’ve invested two hours thinking I’m being correctly informed, only to read the small print at the end of the credits that says “based on a true story.” I like things to be either 100% fact or 100% fiction. I think when I write MY autobiography, I’ll have myself married to Paul McCartney. That IS based on true events; it happened in my dreams!)

I have two other tiny bones to pick with the show. One is that there seemed to be some music, especially at the beginning, that didn’t belong to the Four Seasons. Yet, when I looked all over for the credit of these songwriters, they were nowhere to be found. That just doesn’t seem right. (Or I’m just an idiot who missed them, but I think not, this time.)

The other is that from all the performances I’ve seen of this show at special events, (such as the Tonys, and a Fourth of July Special last summer) I was led to believe that there was a virtual concert at the end of the second half. I was really looking forward to it. (Many other audience members I spoke to expected it, too.) The whole cast came out, the girls had on new sparkly costumes, the musicians showed up, they put special lighting on the screens and then…it was over and they took their bows! I couldn’t believe it! I’m sure I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I hadn’t been expecting so much more.

Being that it was opening night, I was praying that Frankie Valli would come out for the end, and he did, along with Joe Pesci, Tommy DeVito (the founding member of the group), and Bob Crewe, their original producer and many time songwriter. That was really exciting. But I wanted them to sing, even just one encore number with the cast. When they didn’t, I was disappointed again. (On the opening night of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” a few years back at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, he came out at the end and did a mini-concert, which was amazing. And I’m not even a fan of his!)

As a show, though, it was all positive. The performances were solid, the singing great, and the sound system at the Ahmanson even better than that. And the musicians did themselves proud.

Anyway, though after now having finally seen both “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Jersey Boys,” I can’t fathom how the latter beat the former out for last year’s Tony Award for Best Musical, I had a great time. Usually, at most shows I’ve attended in my life, especially with pre-opening buzz, there are audience grumblings of major disappointments. There was none of that here. It’s one time I can truly say a great time was had by all.

“Jersey Boys” running through August 31 Ahmanson Theatre 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400


The after-show party was such an entity unto itself that I feel it needs its own section. It was an extravaganza, befitting the magnitude of the show. I’m so glad that I had changed my outfit three times before leaving the house!

I went with my own Jersey Boy, Mr. X, who tore up the dance floor. People were standing around staring in awe at his krumping. I even had to stop dancing myself and stand back and enjoy along with the appreciative crowd. My least favorite part was watching every half-naked hottie run up to him to gush and ask him to teach them his moves. Here’s a move that I can teach them: the get-away-from-my-boyfriend-hair-pull! (I’m joking, but only semi.)

The party was on The Plaza of The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, across the street from the Music Center. The five-year-old church itself had just been pointed out to me last week, so I was happy to see it so soon after. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue with tons of space, a nice change from shoulder-to-shoulder fetes.

The catering was done by Levy Restaurants, an organization that’s new to me, but appears to be a national giant. Mr. X pointed out that it was heavy on Italian specialties, such as pizza, bruschetta, and cannoli, to go with the theme of the show. I love when caterers do that. Makes the party extra fun.

It was so fun, in fact, that if we didn’t have our dear friend, Eadie, baby-sitting for the ailing Clarence, our precious toy poodle, we’d probably still be there. Which would be okay because since we were already at a church, we could have prayed for energy for the next great opening.


Speaking of Jersey Boys, one of them will be appearing at this special show whose inaugural program I was lucky enough to attend in February 2006. Devon May, who plays Tommy DeVito, the aforementioned leader of the Four Seasons, will be one of the many talented singers to perform in Fractured Broadway 2 at NoHo’s El Portal Theatre on June 11th.

Assuming it’s in the same format as the one I saw, the show consists of individual performances of mostly famous songs from Broadway musicals. The audience that time seemed to be very knowledgeable about all the players. The hands-down hit of last year, Adam Lambert, isn’t scheduled to be there this time, but since he’s appearing in “Wicked” in Los Angeles, I can always have hope.

Adam sang “I Am Changing” from “Dreamgirls” and you could hear a pin drop during it. I couldn’t even breathe. It took quite a while for the audience to come back down to earth after. I actually felt bad for the poor acts who had to follow him. (I heard that backstage, some of the players vowed never to do that again!) At the reception after, I told him that his performance had been a religious experience, and he’s so cute that he just laughed and said, “You’re so funny.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a surprise appearance this time.

Barring that, there are plenty of other potential audience faves, some of whom have headlined this past year at Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s, a great supper club in the valley. (You can read about it in my archives.) They include the popular Kevin Early and Joan Ryan, and I can’t wait to see them, at either venue. (Sterling’s or the El Portal.)

No doubt the one performer everyone can’t wait to see is Bruce Vilanche. I’m lucky enough to have known him since early on in my career and I can tell you he’s just as nice and unpretentious as he is funny. He puts a spark in any show.

The show benefits the Valley Musical Theatre’s Educational Programs, designed to bring arts to the L.A. Unified School District, a worthwhile enterprise. And if you purchase the higher priced tickets, you’re invited to the post-show reception with the cast, which is always fun. Hope to see you there!

Fractured Broadway 2 June 11, 2007 8PM El Portal Theatre 5269 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood


Karen with Gwendal Peizerat

I’ve previewed and reviewed this show several times this year, but have a few final notes as this season’s tour ends. When they played Los Angeles and Anaheim over Memorial Day Week-end, I had several other choices of events for those days. Even though I had seen this tour in New York exactly one month before, I’m so glad I chose it again.

It was even better here, though, sadly for me, Peter Tchernychev wasn’t with them this time. (For the story of my sick crush on him, check out my archives for the column from two weeks ago.) So, I consoled myself with the tour’s other hot guy, Olympic Dance Champion Gwendal Peizerat, who performed part of his number without his shirt again, which pretty much made my day.

For me, the hits of Champions On Ice SoCal’s engagement were the top two American Junior ladies, 14-year-olds Carolyn Zhang and Mirai Nagasu, who appeared on just this leg of the tour. Carolyn is the World Junior Champion and Mirai is the U.S. National Junior Champion.

Karen with Champions On Ice VP Michael Collins

All I can say is lucky thing for Sasha Cohen that she stopped competing before these girls join the Senior ranks! (After the girls performed, they ran around backstage getting autographs from the other skaters! How unassuming is that?! Meanwhile, fans are lining up for theirs, including me.) And, on top of being fabulous skaters, they both laughed at everything I said. So, they’re smart, too.

Because of the fabulous Collins family, who run the show, I got to hang-out backstage (or is it “back-ice” in this case?) pre- and post-show. I was the most excited to meet three-time U.S. National Champion Johnny Weir, whose face in person is as stunning as his skating. I was overwhelmed by his beauty. And he was darling, too.

The way that Johnny is portrayed in the press, I didn’t know what to expect. The idiot commentators are rarely very complimentary, to say the least. (About him; never his skating. They know better than that.) I brought my friend, Alexis, who’s a figure skating coach herself, and she was as surprised as I was to find out how lovely and accessible he was. (She worded it better than that, but I forget her high-class choice of words and I have to get this column in, so there’s no time for remembering.)

Karen with her New Best Friend Johnny Weir

All I can say is that Johnny is My New Best Friend. (I hope he cherishes this title as much as his skating championships, even though the one from me is usually fleeting. Maybe not in his case, though.) He’s the first stranger I’ve asked for a hug since the soul legend Smoky Robinson many years ago. What does that say about his attraction???

I gave Johnny my card and he said he’d call me, ( because we weren’t even close to finishing dishing!) and to my shock and amazement, he did! Just three days later! (Maybe he could pass the info on to Peter, too.) What a guy. And unbelievably talented, to boot. The whole audience stops their side conversations when he’s on the ice. He just commands one’s attention.

Karen with Ryan Bradley

I loved another adorable American guy, Ryan Bradley, too. He’s so much taller than I could have ever imagined, and he has some spectacular moves.

Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of the ever-complaining Evan Lysacek, who’s been competing with the same “Carmen” program for at least three years now. We get it; you can do that one. You copied and pasted it. Now can we please hit Refresh?

1992 Olympic Champ Victor Petrenko was not only very entertaining and still in great shape, but at lunch before the show, he was kind enough to record a video birthday message to my little mother, since he’s her favorite skater. How nice is he???

Karen with Victor Petrenko

We had all looked forward to seeing Russia’s Irina Slutskaya, especially since she sat out this competitive year, but she couldn’t skate for the happiest of reasons--she’s pregnant! (Which I was the first one to call when I saw her skate on a television special early in the season.) So, hopefully we’ll have another little Champion On Ice in fifteen years or so.

Anyway, this tour ended on the highest of notes for me. Now I have to calm down and get ready for next year, while the skaters un-relax and start training for the upcoming competitive season. It seems that I have the easier task, but never underestimate the energy that goes into being a die-hard fan. Now if only we had similar abs from our respective hard work, I’d be all set.

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