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Originally published December 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 10, 2007 at 9:21 AM

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Rockin' out with those "Jersey Boys"

For anyone with a broad appreciation of rock 'n' roll Americana, the Broadway show "The Jersey Boys" is more than a vastly entertaining...

Seattle Times theater critic

Now playing

"The Jersey Boys," Tuesdays-Sundays through Jan. 12, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $28-$88 (888-584-4849 or www.5thavenue.org). Due to some profanity and sexual candor, this show is not recommended for small children.

For anyone with a broad appreciation of rock 'n' roll Americana, the Broadway show "The Jersey Boys" is more than a vastly entertaining musical. It is something of a revelation.

This stage phenom about the rise of the Four Seasons pop quartet — the 2006 Tony winner for best new musical — has just about everything going for it.

Now at the 5th Avenue Theatre on national tour, "Jersey Boys" sweeps you up in a fascinating show biz back story of music, Mafiosi and Italian-American male bonding (and feuding), snappily scripted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

It is expertly directed by Des McAnuff, with jet-propulsion pacing and song-integration techniques borrowed from such inventive previous rock musicals as Michael Bennett's "Dreamgirls," and McAnuff's earlier Broadway winner, "The Who's Tommy."

The debut Seattle run of "Jersey Boys" features four main actors who relate distinctive personalities, while blending strong voices in song, cracking wise in Joisey-ese, playing musical instruments — and sometimes playing hard-ball with each other.

But best of all, the production revives and demonstrates the surprisingly timeless appeal of the Four Seasons songbook — from their punchy, early '60s hits ("Sherry," "Dawn" and "Walk Like a Man") to their smoother late successes ("My Eyes Adored You," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You").

"Jersey Boys" milks the group's unique, smackdown sound for all it's worth.

With the volume cranked up high (on a few tunes, make that assaultively high), this music struts along to a pugnacious beat. And it is built on a foundation of killer harmonies — from the doo-wop bass notes to the unearthly, piercing falsetto of the combo's remarkable lead vocalist, Frankie Valli.

The story of how young Frankie (played impressively in this national touring company by Christopher Kale Jones) met up with small-time mobster-musician Tommy DeVito (equally impressive Deven May ), fellow ex-con and "harmony genius" Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) and the more sober, musically precocious composer-pianist Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) to form the Four Seasons, is riveting. And it is savvily narrated, in turn, by each of the four band mates.

There's also a musical lesson in how these macho fellas forged their gold-record sound — not overnight, and not without a lot of experimentation. And with considerable help from record producer Bob Crewe (played as flamboyantly gay, by John Altieri), Newark pal (and future actor) Joe Pesci (Courter Simmons) and a Mob boss or two.

But it's the fidelity to, and smart manipulation of, their music that underpins the show's humor and drama, and distinguishes this riches-and-fame-can't-buy-happiness saga from many similar modern fables.

With their harder-edged sound, their ethnic, slick-haired look and Jersey brashness, the Four Seasons did not inspire the kind of global personality cult and frenzied adolescent hysteria their peers like the Beach Boys and the Beatles did.

But Four Season singles (most written by Gaudio and Crewe) won widespread TV and radio exposure.

And when you hear more than a dozen of those 45-rpm wonders come alive again on stage, after McAnuff and company have engineered big buildups to them, they are surprisingly intoxicating. (If only Seattle audiences were the get-up-and-dance type, like the Broadway crowd for this show is.)

Last note: One would be remiss to rave about "Jersey Boys" and not mention the excellent contributions by Klara Zieglerova (whose sets include terrific Roy Lichtenstein-style comic book panels); the great lighting by Howell Binkley; and Ron Melrose, whose superior music direction and arrangements are a godsend.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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