The lure of ‘Jersey Boys’: Mercury Theater’s homegrown production entices suburban actor out of retirement, again

For most of his professional life, actor Adrian Aguilar wanted to play one role: Tommy DeVito in “Jersey Boys.”

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have one dream role and one dream show,” said Aguilar of his affection for the hit jukebox tuner, the rags-to-riches-to-reconciliation tale of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons that ran for more than 12 years on Broadway.

The Aurora native — a veteran of Drury Lane, Marriott, Paramount, Porchlight and Chicago Shakespeare theaters — was on the verge of letting that dream go when he heard about Mercury Theater Chicago’s first “built-in-Chicago” production.

“This is my chance,” he thought to himself, an opportunity to indulge his long-held rock star aspirations as Tommy DeVito, the minor-league hood who put The Four Seasons together.

He wasn’t the only cast member who felt that way, said Brenda Didier, who co-directs the Chicago premiere with Mercury Theater executive producer L. Walter Stearns.

“Everyone said ‘I have to do this,’” Didier said. “It’s fun to listen to their stories on how they connected with the show.”

Libertyville’s Brenda Didier co-directs Mercury Theater Chicago’s first local production of the popular jukebox tuner “Jersey Boys.” Courtesy of Robin West

“We have the best of the best,” said the Libertyville resident of the cast, which includes Jason Michael Evans (Nick Massi), Andrew MacNaughton (Bob Gaudio), Michael Metcalf (Frankie Valli) and Aguilar as The Four Seasons. “The chemistry is incredible.”

For Aguilar, the production marks a return to theater after his latest hiatus.

“To say I’ve retired a couple of times is an understatement,” laughed Aguilar, whose actor friends compare him to Tom Brady and Michael Jordan, who both retired and then famously unretired.

“All I’ve ever wanted to be was a family man, a good husband, a good father and have a regular life,” said the Evanston resident.

From 2009 to 2015, the song-and-dance man worked full-time as an actor, including on Broadway where he performed in the “Rocky” musical. During the succeeding years — with his wife, actress and Northwestern University assistant professor Brianna Borger in graduate school and their young song at home — Aguilar pursued a career coaching and training athletes.

In a volatile business like theater, artists don’t always know where their next paycheck is coming from, he said. With that in mind, he stepped away from the stage in 2015 to provide a normal life for his young family.

His retirement lasted about two years.

In 2017, Drury Lane Theatre invited him to audition for the lead in “Saturday Night Fever.” He got the role, and after the run concluded he retired again until director/choreographer Matt Crowle called him in 2021. Crowle had lost his leading man for Drury Lane’s “Holiday Inn” revival and asked Aguilar to take over the role. Aguilar agreed, and that was his last fully staged production, except for a few concerts and staged readings, until “Jersey Boys.”

By the second week of rehearsal, Aguilar and his castmates were “finding our friendship the same way they do in the show.”

Acknowledging the high stakes, Didier says the cast and creative team welcome the challenge.

“There’s a special energy with everyone in the room. Everyone is committed and bringing their A-game,” she said, adding that the first read-through so impressed her, she’d have paid money to watch it.

Jason Michael Evans, left, Michael Metcalf, Adrian Aguilar and Andrew MacNaughton star as four pals turned pop music superstars in Mercury Theater Chicago's production of “Jersey Boys.” Courtesy of Mercury Theater Chicago

Aguilar concurs.

“This is a very special collection of people,” he said. “They are so funny, so humble, so multitalented it blows my mind.”

Ultimately, the show is propelled by joy, which is something people need now, Aguilar said.

“It’s pure joy,” he said. “The songs rock. The characters are fun. The story is great.”

Helping to spread that joy, making audiences smile for a couple of hours — maybe that’s why Aguilar can’t bring himself to retire permanently.

“I look out and say, ‘That’s it. That’s all I can do in this short life,’” he said.

And that’s enough.

• • •

“Jersey Boys”

When: Previews March 15-27. The show opens March 28

Where: Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago,

Tickets: $60-$90

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