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posted: 4/13/2012 5:30 AM

Stellar 'Jersey Boys' makes a welcome return

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  • Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie), Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd) and Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner) rise to fame as the Four Seasons in

      Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie), Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd) and Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner) rise to fame as the Four Seasons in

  • "Jersey Boys" returns to Chicago for a run at the Bank of America Theatre. The Tony Award-winning musical charts the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Joseph Leo Bwarie, left, Preston Truman Boyd, John Gardiner and Michael Lomenda).

      "Jersey Boys" returns to Chicago for a run at the Bank of America Theatre. The Tony Award-winning musical charts the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Joseph Leo Bwarie, left, Preston Truman Boyd, John Gardiner and Michael Lomenda).

  • Video: "Jersey Boys" promo

  • Video: Hits from the Four Seasons

 
By Lisa Friedman Miner
lminer@dailyherald.com

"We put Jersey on the map," brags Tommy DeVito, early on in "Jersey Boys."

Hyperbole? Sure. But minutes into this 2006 Tony Award-winning musical, you're a believer. Because before Jersey gave us Springsteen and Snooki, the state of landfills and turnpikes was home to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons -- tough guys with sweet voices and a set of hits still beloved five decades later.

The "Boys" are back in Chicago, this time through June 3 at the Bank of America Theatre. If you saw "Jersey Boys" before, you'll still be enormously entertained and inspired by this nearly flawless jukebox musical. And if you haven't seen "Jersey Boys," well, don't miss the chance. This show has everything you'd want in great theater -- a stellar cast, an engaging story, relatable humor and songs you don't mind hearing again, and again, and again.

It all begins, of course, on the wrong side of the tracks in Jersey. Musicians/thugs Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) juggle club gigs with jail stints. They want something better and find it in Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie), a teen with a distinctive voice and a mighty powerful falsetto.

Next, thanks to Joe Pesci -- yes, that Joe Pesci -- they add their fourth: a "one-hit-wonder" named Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd), who will go on to write the hits that take The Four Seasons to the top of the 1960s' charts.

It's a bumpy road, of course, complicated by Tommy's mounting debts to dangerous men. Relationships -- both personal and professional -- can't help but crumble.

But in times good and bad, there are TV appearances, concerts, club gigs and recording sessions -- all perfect opportunities to organically weave in songs like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes off of You."

"Jersey Boys" never lags, not for a moment, thanks in part to the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, lyrics by Bob Crewe and music by Gaudio himself. But the cast must bring these well-known songs to life, while remaining true to the men who made them famous. The four main stars do that and more.

Bwarie's extraordinary voice is up to the Valli challenge. He brings heartfelt emotion to tender songs like "My Eyes Adored You" and "Fallen Angel." Throughout, he delivers energy and passion to every scene.

While Valli may be the best known of the bunch, the show doesn't let his fame overshadow the stories of his bandmates and the talented trio playing them. Boyd brings a boyish charm to his role as Bob Gaudio; Lomenda is great as the quirky Nick. And Gardiner draws out the show's humor as the fast-talking Tommy, but also reveals the anger and envy seething beneath the swagger.

As Tommy's troubles mount, Nick addresses head-on the notion that Frankie and the others should have cut him loose.

"If that's what you think," Nick says, "then you're not from Jersey."

Thankfully, they were.

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