October 18, 2018

Chair dancing with the ‘Jersey Boys,’ Mikey Weinstein blocks prosyletizing Pentagon video game

Stars of a Different Stripe

Theirs was a classic rags-to-riches story, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, representing the truest incarnation of the American dream: the crooked kids from the other side of town getting a break and making it big.

Big enough in fact, that my closest association with the quartet virtuoso before I saw “Jersey Boys” was the memory of singing along with the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” — that was about Baby growing up. Daddy’s little girl lured away from the ample nest by a dancer as seductive as he was penniless, who had to learn to “Walk Like a Man” to sustain her affections — but that’s another story.

This one began when Dava Savel, best known for penning the Emmy-winning coming-out episode for the TV comedy series, “Ellen,” placated her ex-husband by finally seeing his magnum opus — one night before it closed a three-month run at the Ahmanson Theatre, and we joined her for the evening.

Steve Orich, longtime orchestrator, composer and musical director working out of New York and Los Angeles, created the score for the Tony-winning musical, garnering nominations for both a Tony and Grammy award. This explains why the box office attendant said, “Wow, these are really good seats” when we picked them up at will-call.

Savel recounts the days during their 13-year marriage when they lived and breathed Broadway — she wrote Hollywood scripts and he conducted at Carnegie Hall.

Last summer, Savel re-visited Broadway with her daughter, but not for “Jersey Boys” — “Mary Poppins” was the pick of the day then. So what finally brought her ’round to see her ex-hubby’s musical sensation? “I wanted to be supportive. We’ve been through a gazillion shows, and my kids raved about it. I wanted to check it out for myself.”

The theatricals that ensued involved dancing in our seats and singing along to every song. The documentary-style musical interweaves spirited renditions of the group’s greatest hits with scenes that reflect the group’s dramatic rise to stardom. There was prison and booze and women, debts, disagreements and eventual dissolution. It’s a tale that, despite being set in the 1960s, remains relevant — although by comparison, these guys exuded charm and professionalism, while the likes of Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears embody the anguish of excess. Ultimately, though, they’re all just people whose fast rise to fame and fortune meant home life would suffer.

Maybe the real stars are the ones who find balance. Like the award-winning television writer and the award-winning orchestrator who have found ways to amicably raise their children in harmony, while enjoying committed relationships with new partners.

“I thought he did an amazing job,” Savel said. “People think it’s the same Frankie Valli songs, but Valli probably used four instruments and Steve is orchestrating for an entire orchestra — he’s given the music new life.”

Last I saw, Savel was sitting front-row mezzanine belting “Oh What a Night!”

Scene and Heard …

Ally Maize and Alexa Block
Holy Maccabee! Two Beverly Hills teens, Ally Maize and Alexa Block took home the gold medal with the L.A. Soccer team at this year’s Maccabi Games held in Orange County. More than 2,000 Jewish teens came from around the world to sport-their-stuff at this Olympic-style event responsible for launching the careers of real Olympians Mitch Gaylord, Mark Spitz and Lenny Krayzelburg.

Fast-talking military man Mikey Weinstein successfully lobbied the Pentagon to halt delivery of a proselytizing video game, developed by Operation Straight Up, that was intended to evangelize U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East. In a JTA brief, Weinstein said, “It’s a horrible game because in it you either kill or convert the other side.”

Eleven-year-old Sarah Lang didn’t let disease derail her dream. The Speed Skating Champion was a special guest at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America Guts and Glory 5k walk/run held at UCLA Aug. 26. She received a dual diagnosis of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis in 2006 but finished the season in the top five of the 1000 meter race and is currently ranked eighth in the world. More than 1.4 million people in the United States are afflicted with Crohn’s, and it is particularly prevalent among Jews of Ashkenazic descent.