JERSEY BOYS at the Orpheum Theater through April 20; 612.673.0404
Admittedly, the prospect of spending an evening in the presence of Frankie Valli's caterwauling falsetto (or an actor approximating it) in Jersey Boys did not fill me with unbridled enthusiasm. Yet the show turns out to be nothing short of a blast, finely crafted and passionately performed, and about as soulful as such a well-oiled machine could be. The action revolves around the group that would become the Four Seasons, led by small-time wiseguy Tommy DeVito (Erik Bates). Bates addresses the audience throughout the early going, describing his mates' botched jewelry heist and other petty crimes that compel the band to adapt its lineup based on who is either in or out of the pokey. Their fortunes change when they meet sweet-voiced Frankie (Christopher Kale Jones), a relatively pampered innocent whom Tommy alternately encourages and dominates. After an apprenticeship as house band for producer Bob Crewe (Jonathan Hadley, painting his character wonderfully as a queer hipster in a less knowing time), and the addition of ace tunesmith Bob Gaudio (Andrew Rannells), lightning strikes and the group goes supernova. The hits are delivered with rocking force, and tunes that (to these ears) always sounded plastic or lightweight are reeled off as loud, vital classics. Jones manages Valli's falsetto decently, omitting that famed screech at the top of the register, but also comes across as a powerhouse on later numbers such as "Can't Take My Eyes off You" and "Working My Way Back to You." The second act leans harder on narrative, describing the implosion of the original lineup and Valli's ups and downs in the decades afterward, but by the time each Four Season delivers a final monologue before going off into the night, a convincing case is made that it's all about the music. It harkens back to perhaps the most offhandedly exhilarating sequence of the show, when the group listens to Gaudio play "Cry for Me" at the piano; each Four Season, listening attentively, joins in one at a time, with Jones hitting harmonies, and guitar and bass chiming in. At the end Valli refers to "our sound," and Jones sincerely delivers Valli's ample, and well-founded, sense of pride.