the Jersey Boys ensemble

A supremely enjoyable night out on the town, the full experience of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest presentation includes some great food, a blast of a pre-show, and an amazing musical – Jersey Boys – to cap things off. With the production helmed by Michael Ingersoll, this is an evening of theatre not to be missed.

Before the main event gets underway, the audience is treated to the Circa '21 Bootleggers' pre-show tribute to boy bands throughout the ages. (Full disclosure: My wife Sydney is a member of the theatre's performing wait staff.) With its creative team of Kimberly Calhoun, Bobby Becher, Kirsten Sindelar, Micah Bernas, and Kelsi Ford, this medley features all the usual suspects – the Beach Boys, the Beatles, N*SYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and even more – and serves as a delectable appetizer for the main course.

Jersey Boys received its world premiere in 2004 and opened on Broadway the following year, where it went on to win four Tony Awards. Since then, it has been adapted to a middling film, toured around the country and world countless times, and started making the rounds on the regional circuit. It tells the story of Frankie Valli (Bear Manescalchi) and the Four Seasons, a group whose music you’ve certainly heard, even if you don’t recognize the band moniker. And I’ll admit, the first time I watched the musical, I had no idea who the Four Seasons were, even though I had indeed heard their songs. Since then, after seeing multiple productions, Jersey Boys has become my favorite modern musical. And I’m delighted to report that Circa '21's production met and exceeded my exceedingly high expectations.

Bear Manescalchi, Michael Ingersoll, Bobby Becher, Kelly Brown, and Derrick Bertram in Jersey Boys

Its tale starts in the '50s, before the group even existed. First narrated by Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito (played by director Ingersoll during opening week; Joe Collins will eventually take over the role), he tells the audience how the band came together from humble (and felonious) beginnings. Throughout the course of the show, each member of the Seasons gets to share his part of the story as you follow the group's trajectory from zeroes to heroes. You see the band's heartbreaks, record deals, backroom deals, mob deals, and more as they navigate both show business and the pitfalls of accrued fame. I must confess that I’m unfamiliar with the actual history of the band and can’t speak to any mythologizing at play here, but nothing strikes me as wholly unbelievable. And when the music is this good, I say who cares if the show's creators make a good story better?

The entire production staff deserve accolades for their exemplary work. As director, Ingersoll stages events in a lean and efficient manner so that the two-and-a-half-hour runtime never feels that long. Rich Hamson's and Bradley Robert Jensen's costumes are immaculate and help subtly convey the passing of decades. Ashley Becher's choreography is fun and varied throughout. Heather Hauskins’ lighting design is striking and is probably the best work I’ve yet seen from her. Additionally, the music direction by Ron May is sublime and features some killer vocal arrangements that I didn’t even hear on the national tours. Finally, Nanya Ramey's set design is sleek and efficient. A metal scaffolding comprises most of the upstage, with a couple of functioning street lights downstage, and the occasional piece of furniture brought on and off. The focus here is wisely placed on the performers, all of whom are up to the task.

Bear Manescalchi, Bobby Becher, Michael Ingersoll, and Kelly Brown in Jersey Boys

Our central quartet is portrayed by actors who deliver both compelling performances and electrifying vocals. The other two Seasons, whom I have yet to mention, are Nick Massi (Kelly Brown), the most low-key Season who gets the best monologue of the show, and Bob Gaudio (Bobby Becher), who leads what may be the finest rendition of “Cry for Me” that I’ve ever heard. Ingersoll managed to make DeVito as charming as he was sleazy, and Manescalchi effortlessly nails Valli’s cadence and tone. Beyond the core four, the cast is composed of a series of character actors who all execute their bits and scenes with precision. Ensemble standouts include Rachel Winter, Tristan Tapscott, and Derrick Bertram, the latter of whose Joe Pesci (yeah, that Joe Pesci) is as manic as he is entertaining.

I firmly believe there’s no such thing as a perfect show, but Saturday evening’s performance made me question that long-standing notion. If I had to pick some gripes, they would include a few mic issues that I’m sure will be ironed out before the end of the run, and, on Saturday, the late start time and extra-long intermission making an already-lengthy evening more so.

As I already mentioned that Jersey Boys is one of my favorite musicals, you and I both know I’m biased. But my dear friend who attended Saturday's performance with me had never seen the show before, and walked away with even higher praises than I’ve shared here. Circa '21’s latest is a fantastic, unmissable production, and while the musical runs through July, I suspect tickets will become scarce as word of its quality gets out. If you have the chance, take a trip to Jersey by way of Rock Island.


Jersey Boys runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island IL) through July 6, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 and visiting

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