"Jersey Boys," the durable jukebox musical about the Four Seasons, has worked its way back to Baltimore, hanging on to what it's got — a whole bunch of popular songs interspersed with tales of triumph, tribulation and more triumph.
For those who caught the show's visit to the Hippodrome Theatre only two years ago, there is a new cast to check out. For those who have managed to miss it (in addition to the national touring production, it has been on Broadway since 2005), this visit will make a worthy introduction.
As jukebox musicals go, this is certainly one of the most effective. Yes, it could certainly use trimming, either of songs or incident, but the surprisingly rich back (and backstage) story of high-pitched Frankie Valli and his buddies who made it big in the mid-1960s does keep things interesting.
That back story is neatly summed up in "Jersey Boys" by the character of Nick Massi, the quiet one who came to see himself as the Ringo of the group: "You sell 100 million records and see how you handle it. None of us were saints."
Every time I see the show, I am struck anew by the extraordinary tale of how Tommy DeVito, progenitor of the Four Seasons, also turned out to be its primary liability. And how Valli responded to the crisis DeVito caused with a demonstration of true Jersey loyalty that would have baffled Snooki and the rest of her ersatz Jerseyites.
The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice navigates dates, times, places and characters neatly. The humor they sprinkle on the dialogue generates more hits than misses, rather like the Four Seasons' discography.
Slick stagecraft (scenic design by Klara Zieglerova, lighting by Howell Binkley) conjures up just enough detail and atmosphere as the action flows seamlessly under the guidance of director Des McAnuff. And Sergio Trujillo's choreography snappily reproduces the flavor of those golden-oldie days when the Four Seasons basked in the spotlight.
This is very much an ensemble show, but its success still depends to a large extent on having a persuasive actor in the role of Valli, the short guy who reached some pretty wild heights with his almost burly falsetto, creating the defining sound of the Four Seasons.
Two actors alternate in the role, one for six performances a week, the other for two. I caught the two-show Valli , Hayden Milanes, who fulfills the assignment with assurance and a great accent. (He will move on up to the No. 1 slot next month during the national tour's next stop.)
Milanes is especially strong in the acting department, able to suggest the teenage Valli as deftly as the mature one. And he taps into the show's darker moments with impressive nuance.
This is especially the case in the Act 2 "Fallen Angel" scene when Valli learns that his daughter Francine has died. Even with his back to the audience for a good portion of that scene, Milanes exerts a communicative pull. (I do wish the creators would ditch the walk-on nurse carrying a box of Francine's personal effects. Might as well add a neon sign that flashes "Empathize!" at the audience.)
Although Milanes handles the falsetto nimbly enough, his tone isn't particularly distinctive in the stratosphere. Closer to earth, though, his singing registers warmly. And in an all-too-short snippet of "I'm in the Mood for Love," he reveals a fine sense of jazz styling.
Nicolas Dromard nails DeVito's volatile mix of crudeness and cleverness. As Massi, Brandon Andrus gives a delectably deadpan performance (he reminded me of Sheldon Leonard, the great character actor).
Bob Gaudio, the precocious songwriter who helped put the Four Seasons on the map and held onto a remarkable handshake-sealed partnership with Valli, is a winning presence here as portrayed by Jason Kappus. The actor has a sly charm and perfectly timed delivery that gives the production a spark.
(Kappus must have been extra-charged the night I attended — the real Gaudio, who remains closely associated with the show, was in the Hippodrome audience.)
The supporting cast is generally effective, often colorful, especially Barry Anderson as the inspired record producer Bob Crewe. (I still find the gay stereotype accouterments that go with the role annoying, but Anderson manages to keep them from dominating.)
The women singing "My Boyfriend's Back" could use some fine-tuning, and the drummer in "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" could sure use a subtler touch. Otherwise, the abundant songs are served up sturdily in this return engagement of a jukebox musical that keeps on spinning.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun