The Boss is back in town. No, not that grizzled rocker on the cover of AARP magazine — another New Jersey native, Frankie Valli, who, with the Four Seasons, is the complex hero of the explosive bio-musical “Jersey Boys.”
This evolution of a pop supergroup — onstage at the National Theatre through Dec. 12 — may seem at first glance to be just another jukebox musical, an energetic showcase of hit songs enlivened by Broadway-style choreography and performed by actors who have a fleeting resemblance to the famous singers they’re imitating.
In a production polished to a sequined sheen by director Des McAnuff, “Jersey Boys” is different on several levels. This Tony-winning documentary-style show traces the turbulent story of Mr. Valli and the Four Seasons, who went from harmonizing street punks (while also indulging in a little breaking and entering in their spare time) to ‘60s sensations and a berth in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie, a sad-eyed soulster with a celestial tenor) may sing like an angel, but he and the group’s other members were no saints. Problems with drinking, gambling, booze and broads — as well as personal betrayals of “Sopranos” dimensions — plagued the quartet. Onstage, their vocal swoops and synchronicities were pure satin, but the guys themselves were as gritty as someone you’d find on a wharf outfitting a stoolie in cement overshoes. Particularly menacing is group founder Tommy DeVito, who, as portrayed by Matt Bailey, is a rattlesnake coiled by unbridled ego and resentment.
Less goombah-ish are songwriter Bob Gaudio (Josh Franklin, an amiable force), who forgoes the spotlight for the more powerful position of shaping the group’s sound and direction, and Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia, who brings gentle star quality to the role of a second banana) — the group’s peacemaker, seemingly tolerant of playing Ringo to Bob and Frankie’s Lennon and McCartney.
Oh yes; there’s also the music.
If you’re a die-hard Four Seasons fan — and judging from the roaring and cheering from Sunday night’s crowd, there are slews of them — the pitch-perfect renditions of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Stay” and “Working My Way Back to You” will transport you back to a time of transistor radios and beach-blanket bingo. The set, with its Roy Lichtenstein-style pop projections, and Jess Goldstein’s glitzy confectionary costumes complete the vibrant portrait of 1960s America.
Those who may have thought of the Four Seasons as old-school pompadoured bubble-gum rockers will find themselves with a newfound appreciation for their sound and innovations. The Four Seasons may be considered the urban, East Coast version of the Beach Boys, but Mr. Gaudio never quite got the “genius” recognition of Brian Wilson.
However, in “Jersey Boys,” when you take in the big-brass bombast of his late ‘60s arrangements (with producing wizard Bob Crewe), the rock ‘n’ roll of “Let’s Hang On” and the sex and desperation of “Beggin’,” you’ll want to send Mr. Wilson back to the sandbox.
WHAT: “Jersey Boys,” book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music by Bob Gaudio, choreography by Sergio Trujillo
WHERE: National Theatre, 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 12.
TICKETS: $51.50 to $111.50
WEB SITE: www.NationalTheatre.org
MAXIMUM RATING:FOUR STARS