There’s a kind of perverse glee that comes with watching that scene in a musical biography where the station manager or radio DJ declares, “That song will never be a hit!” when we the audience all know that not only did the song in question go on to be a big hit, but the performers are about to sing it. The anticipation almost overshadows the narrative purpose of the scene.
In “Jersey Boys” at Starlight Theatre that scene sets up the show’s biggest moment: Aaron De Jesus’ Frankie Valli bringing down the house with his solo number “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The energy was palpable among Tuesday’s opening night audience, who gave the song extra long applause.
But while watching a quartet of singers perform Four Seasons songs would have been enjoyable on its own, the musical (which ran from 2005 to 2017 on Broadway and won four Tonys) also lifts the cover on a previously little known story about the forming and evolution of the group, sort of like a live VH1’s “Behind the Music.”
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Each of the original four members, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Frankie Valli, take turns narrating the different “seasons” of the band’s story, leaving room for subjectivity and differences in the memories.
Tommy begins as a part-time thief and the leader of his own band in Belleville, N.J. He takes the young, angel-voiced Frankie under his wing, and they form a band with bassist Nick. Struggling to make the big time, they are introduced to Bob, then a teenaged one-hit-wonder songwriter.
After another year or two of playing nightclubs and singing backup in the studio, the Four Seasons finally break through with their first No. 1 hit, “Sherry,” followed back-to-back by “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.”
This trio of No. 1’s kicks the show into a higher gear and anchors the first act — this is what we’ve come for.
Success follows, and with it the sadly typical rendition of womanizing, gambling and infighting. Tommy, it’s revealed, is in deep to the loan sharks.
Act two follows the consequences of this trouble, which splits the band and sends Frankie and Bob into the next act of their careers. Bob takes a backseat songwriting role, and Frankie becomes more of a solo act.
The book balances the two acts nicely; there’s enough material in Frankie’s later career and enough story to fill out a complete narrative. The show ends with the band’s admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As Tommy, Matthew Dailey seems to have the most natural charisma in the cast — fitting for his character, as magnetic as he is unreliable. As Nick, Keith Hines draws laughs with his deadpan monotone comments.
But how’s the singing? Playing Frankie Valli is a heavy load, vocally, but De Jesus shoulders it admirably. The falsetto hits all the right notes. A slight gripe is that on some of the louder songs, the instruments drowned out the vocals.
Look, you’re going to leave this musical humming “Oh, What a Night.” Better just jump right into it.
“Jersey Boys” continues at Starlight Theatre through Sunday, July 2. See kcstarlight.com or call 816-363-7827.