Homegrown hit: Mercury Theater Chicago’s ‘Jersey Boys’ is a must-see

“Jersey Boys” — 3.5 stars

About a decade ago, when “Jersey Boys” was still a few years from concluding its 12-year Broadway run, Mercury Theater Chicago executive producers L. Walter Stearns and Eugene Dizon made a shrewd decision.

They secured the rights to the boffo bio-tuner about the 1960s vocal group the Four Seasons, a New Jersey-bred quartet whose members started out singing under a streetlamp and went on to become pop music superstars. Stearns and Dizon waited years to produce the show by writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with songs by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe. Prohibited from staging “Jersey Boys” here during its New York run, the producers had to wait until the Broadway production closed in 2017. Then they waited a while longer, about 4½ years, for “Jersey Boys” to conclude a run off-Broadway.

In 2022, their wait over at last, Stearns and Dizon went to work on Chicago’s first homegrown production. If you saw the sit-down Broadway production during its 27-month run here — or even if you didn’t (especially if you didn’t) — you won’t want to miss Mercury Theater’s crackerjack revival.

Four Seasons Bob Gaudio (Andrew MacNaughton), left, Tommy DeVito (Adrian Aguilar), Nick Massi (Jason Michael Evans) and Frankie Valli (Michael Metcalf) get their television break in Mercury Theater Chicago's “Jersey Boys.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Already extended eight weeks beyond its initial eight-week run, it’s a doozy of a show. Co-directed by Stearns and Libertyville’s Brenda Didier, with music direction by Dizon and Linda Madonia, Mercury Theater’s “Jersey Boys” has an intimacy the aforementioned Chicago production — which played the much larger CIBC Theatre from 2007 to 2010 — lacked.

Dynamic, musically robust and infectiously energetic, it boasts a charismatic, credibly blue-collar quartet in Michael Metcalf, Adrian Aguilar, Jason Michael Evans and Andrew MacNaughton. Golden-voiced Metcalf (whose suburban credits include BrightSide, Metropolis and Steel Beam theaters) plays fiercely loyal lead singer Frankie Valli. Tough guy charmer Adrian Aguilar is leader Tommy DeVito, a minor-league felon with big dreams. Jason Michael Evans plays the affably resigned Nick Massi, the group’s self-described Ringo, and Andrew MacNaughton brings subtle, earned arrogance to Bob Gaudio, composer of the group’s chart-topping tunes.

Suburban theater veteran Michael Metcalf delivers a star turn as Frankie Valli in Mercury Theater Chicago's homegrown production of “Jersey Boys.” Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Each member shares his perspective on the group’s rags-to-riches story, which centers primarily on their relationship with each other. Valli’s personal life is the only one Brickman and Elice examine and it’s a superficial examination at that. (The brief appearance of Valli’s youngest daughter and the cursory reference to her drug-related death is a manipulative move by the writers to generate sympathy no other character enjoys).

The actors’ chemistry is impressive, but more impressive is the glorious vocal blend exemplified by Metcalf’s soulful “I’m in the Mood for Love,” which segued into the quartet “Cry for Me,” a superb synthesis of voices greeted by thunderous applause.

Backed by Madonia’s rock-solid sextet, the entire cast seem to be having as much fun (maybe more) as the audience, who swayed and bobbed their heads to “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and the 11 o’clock number “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” featuring a tour-de-force performance by Metcalf.

The cast also includes: Grant Alexander Brown (as Tommy’s childhood pal Joe Pesci), Adam Fane (droll and sassy as hitmaking producer Bob Crewe), Dan Gold, Carl Herzog (as Gyp DeCarlo, a mobster more softhearted than he appears), Eric A. Lewis, Maya McQueen, Jason Richards, Haley Jane Schafer (as Frankie’s older, wiser wife, Lorraine) and Kayla Shipman. The supporting performers, all of whom play multiple roles, are top-notch. But Brown deserves special mention for his frantic, very funny performance as young Pesci. He may not have stolen the show, but Brown definitely stole his scenes.

Andrew MacNaughton, left, Jason Michael Evans, Michael Metcalf and Adrian Aguilar play members of the Four Seasons, whose friendships fracture as their fame increases in “Jersey Boys,” running through July 28 at the Mercury Theater in Chicago. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

The action unfolds on Bob Knuth’s two-story, brick and steel set partially framed by video screens where video projections provide pops of color. So do Rachel Boylan’s period costumes: sparkling minidresses for the women, dapper red suit jackets with black velvet collars for the Four Seasons. Designer Kevin Barthel also earns kudos for his great-looking wigs.

Certainly nostalgia accounts for much of the show’s appeal, but you don’t have to have lived through the 1960s and 1970s to appreciate “Jersey Boys.” Tight harmonies, infectious tunes zealously performed by Stearns and Didier’s terrific ensemble make for a hugely entertaining night at the theater, which concludes with Metcalf’s Frankie reminiscing about the music that drives him still.

Directed by L. Walter Stearns and Brenda Didier with music direction by Eugene Dizon and Linda Madonia, the first-in-Chicago production of “Jersey Boys” will likely have an extended run at Chicago's Mercury Theater. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

“Four guys under a streetlamp, when it was all still ahead of us,” he said. “The first time we made that sound — our sound — when everything dropped away and all there was, was the music. That was the best.”

It still is.

• • •

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

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through July 28

Running time: About 2 hours 30 minutes, with intermission

Tickets: $70-$90

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