Street corner symphonies

The Four Seasons live in Jersey Boys
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 19, 2010

 THEATER052110_JerseyBoys_ma
IN HARMONY The cast of Jersey Boys.

We’d be happy enough if Jersey Boys were just a musical revue, thrumming with the the Four Seasons’ hit parade. But on top of that we get a compelling story, following the lives of ’60s heartthrob Frankie Valli and those who rocketed to fame with him.

The why-not-dance-in-the-aisles funfest is shaking the chandeliers at the Providence Performing Arts Center through June 6 — for 3-1/2 weeks instead of the usual six-day run. This 2006 Best Musical Tony Award winner has been that much of a touring success.

The book is by Marshall Berkman and Rick Elice; music is by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe.

The show is not just a blast for those who were finger-popping fans more than 40 years ago — though the enthusiasts swaying in the aisles near us happened to be white-haired guys. Come on, whippersnappers: those four dudes with hair glossy from Brylcreem are familiar with every note and tempo heard on Top 40, and they knew how to use them.

And this theatrical tribute band is led by a terrific Frankie Valli. Joseph Leo Bwarie has the pipes of a diminutive Earth Angel, whether he’s sailing up into the tenor’s characteristic falsetto or landing with unerring phrasing on a slow, sentimental ballad. Many young singer-actors have played Valli over the years, but Bwarie opened Jersey Boys in Las Vegas before going on tour, apparently especially impressing musical directing veteran Des McAnuff (The Who’s Tommy, Big River).

Frankie Valli was born Francis Stephen Castelluccio, growing up on the tough streets of Newark, a background Hollywoodized in this account by having him arrested for burglary at 16. He really was working as an apprentice barber, though, when he was discovered by Tommy DeVito (Matt Bailey), one of the co-founders of the Four Seasons. After the older DeVito heard him sing, they played in several bands the guitarist formed, with names like the Variatones and the Four Lovers, before the successful one. (Valli played bass early on, not indicated in the show.)

Key to their success was connecting with composer Bob Gaudio (Ryan Jesse) and lyricist Bob Crewe (Jonathan Hadley). Gaudio was embarrassed about being a self-described one-hit wonder, having written the chart-topping “Short Shorts” at 15. Crewe was a “heavyweight producer” in their eyes as well as a songwriter, hitting No. 3 with the Rays’ take on his “Silhouettes.” When Crewe sketches out “Sherry” in 15 minutes and they insert it at the last minute in a demo package, their career explodes. That chart-topper is followed by “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and, to give little boys equal-time marching orders, “Walk Like a Man.” (The other member of the quartet was bassist Nick Massi.)

Each of these well-acted characters are fully developed, as we follow their personal as well as musical lives to their 1990 induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There is Valli’s initially admiring, foul-mouthed wife Mary (Kara Tremel), who thinks a pizza joint is classy if it doesn’t sell slices. But the main relationship for Valli is with the street-wise DeVito who first took him under wing and brought the group to initial success, although his self-destructive temperament and gambling debts doomed any stable happiness.

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