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Theater review:

Hit musical 'Jersey Boys' makes energetic return to Hippodrome

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Working its way back to the Hippodrome Theatre for the third time in five years, the touring production of "Jersey Boys" again delivers a satisfying combination of hit parade and eventful backstory about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Although "Jersey Boys" will finally say "Bye Bye Baby" to Broadway on Jan. 15, wrapping up an 11-year run of more than 4,600 performances, it will likely be performed on lots of other stages for a long time to come.

When it comes to jukebox musicals, this one, with a clever book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice that weaves in nearly three dozen songs, has what it takes to stay on the charts. There's abundant entertainment value in the retelling of how Valli and his fellow Jerseyites formed a band and developed a distinctive falsetto-fueled sound, aided by a shrewd producer.

The neat twist here is that four narrators get involved instead of one, each shedding and shading light on the shared experiences. That the recollections don't always jibe is a big part of how the show can hook an audience.

Add in splashes of surprisingly durable humor; a couple of side trips for romance and attempts at a domestic life; and a mob boss (hey, it's Jersey) — and you've got enough ingredients to make a pretty decent evening's worth of theater even if there weren't a note of music.

"Jersey Boys" requires actors who can enliven the plot while putting across all those songs with more than mere imitation skill. The whole thing has to feel genuine. That it does so in the production running through Sunday in Baltimore is due largely to Aaron De Jesus, who gives a winning portrayal of Valli.

I hate to mention anything about physical appearance (especially this week), but I've got to point out that De Jesus is more mature- and down-to-earth-looking than the other Vallis I've seen.

Although he's certainly convincing as a teenager early on, De Jesus really shines in Act 2, when the older, if barely wiser, Valli faces fresh setbacks, professional and personal. The actor's nuanced delivery of dialogue and his ability to reflect physically the emotional turns in Valli's life pay off handsomely.

De Jesus can sing, too. His fearless falsetto may take him into Alvin and the Chipmunks territory at times, but when he's closer to terra firma, he does very stylish work — especially crooning "I'm in the Mood for Love" and giving a gentle weight to the lyrics of "My Eyes Adored You."

As Tommy DeVito, the self-professed brains and brawn of the Four Seasons, Matthew Dailey channels his inner Rodney Dangerfield to help create a wickedly charming fellow. Keith Hines gives a droll performance as the pent-up Nick Massi.

The role of songwriter Bob Gaudio, a key ingredient in the Four Seasons' success, makes a snug fit for the personable Cory Jeacoma; his supple singing is another plus. I've never bought the show's characterization of record producer Bob Crewe as practically a precursor to Jack on "Will and Grace," but Barry Anderson brings an effective spirit to the part.

The rest of the cast does vibrant work, and the action, originally directed by Des McAnuff, flows as fluently as ever on Klara Zieglerova's sleek set. Throughout, a well-knit band supports all the soaring vocals in authentic style.

It's easy to spot cliches or awkward transitions in "Jersey Boys," but, as this production reaffirms, it's even easier to hang on to what it's got — a handle on a cool, absorbing chapter of pop music history.

"Jersey Boys" runs through Sunday at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $42-$147. Call 800-982-2787, or go to ticketmaster.com.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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