The Muny presents the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in a quintessentially American musical revue. From their earliest days as New Jersey hoodlums singing under the street lamp to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the quick moving “Jersey Boys” covers the ups and downs of a bunch of neighborhood boys who made it big.
Band founder Tommy DeVito, his brother Nicky and friend Nick Massi are small time delinquents, constantly in and out of jail and heading nowhere fast. They all like music, so Tommy recruits Frankie Castelluccio, a kid with the voice of an angel, and their quartet starts attracting some notice. Frankie changes his last name to Valli, the guys recruit one-hit wonder Bob Gaudio to replace Tommy’s brother (who’s in jail for an extended stay), and a legendary pop band is born.
From their first chart-topping hit “Sherry” on, Valli’s unmistakable range and unforgettable falsetto ensured The Four Seasons were one of the most distinct quartets in pop music. Mark Ballas is remarkable as Valli, effortlessly covering his range and inflection. Like Valli, Ballas has a gritty quality in his lower range that’s a striking contrast to the pure tones of his high notes. He’s also a sharp dancer, with impressive flairs and turns that add an extra touch of showmanship to the role.
Nicolas Dromard can’t stay out of trouble as Tommy DeVito. That fact doesn’t make him any less likeable, ensuring the audience keeps rooting for him. Keith Hines is perfectly deadpan as Nick Massi, providing commentary that becomes funnier with every line. His deep, resonant bass is an important counter to Ballas’ soaring high notes. Bobby Conte Thornton is full of youthful energy as the band’s composer Bob Gaudio. Thornton deftly makes it clear that Gaudio is an uncomfortable performer, finding a soft spot with the audience. Thornton and Ballas complement each other vocally and personally, and it’s easy to believe the two men could become long-term partners on the basis of a friendly handshake.
“Jersey Boys” is more than a touch nostalgic, but the show doesn’t feel old. The story is still relatable and nearly every song is a well-crafted piece of pop music history. “Walk Like a Man” has an all-male chorus that is visually and musically fresh and interesting. “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” is filled with decidedly comic innuendo, “My Eyes Adored You” includes a touching duet featuring Ballas and Michelle Aravena, as Mary Delgado, and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” is big, bold and full of life.
Audience members familiar with the touring show may be startled by the deceptively simple appearance of the Muny production, but the focus on the songs and storytelling creates a satisfying and surprisingly intimate evening of theater. Even younger audience members may find themselves humming along to the hits long after the band leaves the stage.
“Jersey Boys” is at The Muny through July 16. For more information, call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org. M