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BEVERLY — Jukebox musicals have been a big hit with North Shore Music Theatre audiences. Last year, a vibrant “Mamma Mia,” featuring the songs of ABBA, was a box-office bonanza. Next year, NSMT owner/producer/smart businessman Bill Hanney will bring back “Mamma Mia” and present “The Buddy Holly Story,” which celebrates the music of Holly and other early rock ‘n’ rollers.
Wednesday night, the best jukebox musical of all, “Jersey Boys,” opened at the Beverly theater-in-the-round and oh, what a night of entertainment it is. It shines a spotlight on the music, career highs and lows, and internal drama of ’60s hitmakers Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. My eyes (and ears) adored every minute of it.
The band’s story is compelling: Two guys from New Jersey dream of being pop music stars; if only they can find simpatico bandmates and a way to stay out of prison. When Tommy DeVito (Andres Acosta) and Nick Massi (Alex Puette) hear teenager Frankie Castelluccio (Jonathan Mousset Alonso) sing, they realize he might be the missing piece of the puzzle. When songwriter/keyboardist Bob Gaudio (Luke Hamilton) wows them at an impromptu audition, the band is set. Frankie changes his last name to Valli, and stardom’s in the stars.
The musical is set up as four “seasons,” each narrated by a member of the band who gives his version of the band’s career. No two versions are alike. The harmonies might have been glorious onstage, but offstage it was less than harmonious. The “Jersey Boys” biography is darker than that of most jukebox musicals, and it’s entertainingly told warts and all, often punctuated with F-bombs befitting guys from the Garden State.
The four lead actors are uniformly excellent, and each is blessed with a strong, gorgeous voice. Acosta shines as brash risk-taker, lovable swine Tommy, whose excesses eventually break up the band. Puette is fabulous as Nick, whether he’s calmly helping young Frankie find his way or hilariously describing how unpleasant it is to have Tommy as a roomie on the road. Hamilton is solid as Bob, the driven, ambitious, clear-thinking, real brains behind the band. Alonso, whose remarkable falsetto sounds eerily like Valli’s, sends every song into the stratosphere. It’s thrilling to watch his Valli evolve from naive teen to selfish/conflicted husband/father to confident pop star.
There’s not a weak link in the entire cast. Barry Anderson is a howl as record producer Bob Crewe. Alaina Mills shows great range as Mary Delgado, who, like Frankie, sees the band as a way to escape a humdrum existence in Joisey. Luke Darnell (Mob boss Gyp DeCarlo), Ashley Chasteen (Lorraine), Mia Gerachis (Francine Valli), Josh Greenblatt, Michael Allan Haggerty, David LaMarr, Corey Mosello, Alyssa McAnany and EJ Dohring are wonderful in a variety of roles.
Kevin Hill, director and choreographer, and his team add a few terrific unexpected elements to the production, especially bringing the action into the audience and using the entire theater. The costumes and set design, as usual, are exceptional. Even the wigs are brilliant. And NSMT is to be commended for hiring top-notch musicians; no pre-recorded sounds here: bravo!
The Four Seasons’ songs get the audience singing, many in exaggerated falsetto. It’s easy to forget how many hits these guys had: “Rag Doll,” “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got),” and, especially, that “weird” song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” All are performed expertly.
“Jersey Boys” is a series of peaks, not a single Valli. Well, other than the obvious one. It plays through Sept. 1.