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‘Jersey Boys’ musical continues to walk like a man

On stage, and in the recording studio, they produced gorgeous harmonies, selling 175 million records thanks to such hits as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “My Eyes Adored You.” Off stage — despite the sort of intense loyalty forged by adolescent bonding, a mean streets code of conduct and a handshake — dissonance was the rule.

That tension between artistic blending and personal friction is at the very heart of “Jersey Boys,” the enduring 2006 Tony Award-winning “jukebox musical” that recounts the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the group of (mostly) blue-collar kids who topped the charts for much of the 1960s and ’70s, despite the arrival of the “British Invasion.” And it goes a long way towards explaining why the show’s return visit to Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre can still attract big crowds.

‘JERSEY BOYS’

Highly recommended

When: Through May 24

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph

Tickets: $35 – $115

Info: (800) 775-2000; http://www.BroadwayInChicago.com

Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission

With a career-chronicling book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the show features nearly three dozen songs — from early covers, to the many classics penned primarily by the group’s “genius” songwriter, Bob Gaudio, and lyricist Bob Crewe, “Jersey Boys” captures the often chaotic, roller coaster ride of the four men and their uneasy friendship over the years, with each of the principals having a chance to put a bit of their own spin on the story.

It flashes back to the 1950s, when Tommy DeVito (solid work by Matthew Dailey), along with his brother, Nick (John Rochette), and a friend, Nick Massi (deft work by Keith Hines, ) formed The Variety Trio, all the while moving through various rotations in and out of prison along the way. It was Tommy who gave a naive teenager by the name of Frankie Castelluccio — soon to be Frankie Valli (Hayden Milanes) — his first break, and along with Massi, coached him in all things musical (and criminal). But it was Valli, with his angelic falsetto and abiding sense of honor, who struggled to be “the good boy.”

The “genius,” Bob Gaudio (the easily engaging Drew Seeley), arrived just in time to work a crucial change in all their fortunes with a slew of hit songs. Though naive in some ways, he was far more educated than the others and possessed a shrewd business sense. Resented by Tommy and Nick, he forged a lifelong pact with Valli, and the two were essential to catapulting The Four Seasons to fame. Until, that is, it all fell apart — the result of Tommy’s devastating gambling debt, Massi’s need to get off the road, and Gaudio’s desire to stop performing.

Hayden Milanes as Frankie Valli (left), with Drew Seeley, Matthew Dailey and Keith Hines performs “Walk Like a Man,” in “The Jersey Boys,” the hit musical now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Hayden Milanes as Frankie Valli (left), with Drew Seeley, Matthew Dailey and Keith Hines performs “Walk Like a Man,” in “The Jersey Boys,” the hit musical now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

It is Valli who keeps at it, forging a whole new “solo” career as front man to a group of backup singers. His early marriage to Mary Delgado (Marlana Dunn), has long since crumbled, as has his relationship with Lorraine (Jacey Dotin), a journalist. And his beloved teenage daughter, Francine (Leslie Rochette) meets a tragic end. (The women in this story are essentially footnotes; as is often the case, the real family here is the band.) But financial necessity, as well as an innate energy and determination, and a voice that never failed — kept Valli going, as did such massive new hits as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Working My Way Back to You.”

Fleet and darkly handsome, with a voice that uncannily channels Valli’s, and sleek dance moves (including some rubbery splits), Milanes is a terrific leading man in a marathon role that also requires the actor to grow up before your eyes and run the gamut of emotions.

Quality control on this show, with its fluid direction by Des McAnuff, and winning choreography by Sergio Trujillo, has remained exceedingly tight over over the years. The storytelling is clear, the voices are sensational, and a small but mighty orchestra, under music director Ben Hartman, is first-rate. And by the end of the show’s rousing “reunion” number, “Who Loves You?,” it’s very clear that the audience has once again embraced those Jersey Boys.