Who loves you pretty baby? When it comes to the Broadway smash "Jersey Boys," the answer is pretty much everybody.
More than 20 million people have doo-wopped their hearts out at the Des McAnuff-directed jukebox masterpiece which combines the greatest hits of the Four Seasons with a irresistible triple shot of energy, chutzpah and nostalgia. The 2006 Tony winner for best musical, which has held court in San Francisco many times over the years, finally makes its South Bay debut as part of the Broadway San Jose series.
Hard on the heels of Clint Eastwood's movie version of the musical, this national touring production runs through July 20 at the Center for the Performing Arts, which is not exactly the perfect venue for a show that's built on high-wattage personal electricity, but it seems nothing can diminish the unstoppable "Jersey Boys" juggernaut.
McAnuff, also the force behind "Tommy," is a genius at pacing. While the coming-of-age tale can seem a little formulaic, as rags to riches stories of corner boys from New Jersey are hardly new, the galvanic thrust of the score keeps your heart racing. The plot and music are so tightly intertwined that you almost don't notice the stitched-together bits in the narrative.
Certainly Hayden Milanes' Frankie Valli has the audience wrapped around his finger from the first hint of that earth-shattering falsetto to the last wowzer in a hit parade that includes "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man." Even those of us who don't remember the glory days of the boy band can't help toe-tapping at numbers like "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Oh, What a Night."
Of course, the score has even more impact with its target audience and many a Baby Boomer was singing along (sometimes off key) at Tuesday's opening night performance.
Make no mistake this is a perfectly orchestrated feel-good machine that delivers even though this cast has less intense charisma than earlier incarnations and there are points in the first act that lack punch.
The musical charts the coming of age of the boys as it moves through the four seasons. The band has its spring as hungry young guns in the '50s eager to make their bones on the rough streets of Jersey, a place where gangs and goodfellas ruled. There's a revolving door between the joint and the street and it's sheer luck that tough guy Tommy DeVito (a tart turn by Nicolas Dromard) doesn't end up in the slammer before he gives Valli his big break and takes the stoic Nick Massi (Adam Zelasko) along for the ride. Once they join forces with a songwriting wunderkind teenager named Bob Gaudio (Quinn VanAntwerp), the quartet gets propelled to the top of the charts.
For the record, they got the band's name from a burned-out neon sign over a bowling alley and not, as you might suspect, from Vivaldi's seminal work.
While this touring production doesn't have enough snap in between the songs, and some of the more poignant parts of the story feel underdone, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book has surprising wit and depth. The musical captures both the grit of coming from working class roots and the messiness of getting addicted to the high life.
Milanes' has a dizzying range that helps him pull off the show's vocal pyrotechnics. Still he doesn't quite flesh out Valli's journey from starry-eyed lad to fallen idol and there's not enough chemistry between him and Dromard and VanAntwerp. Without a palpable sense of a deep bond between the lads, it's hard to invest in the group's rise and fall.
Several supporting players also really shine here, such as Marlana Dunn as Valli's brassy first wife Mary Delgado, Barry Anderson as flamboyant record producer Bob Crewe and Ian Joseph as a scrappy young Joe Pesci (yes, that one).
If there's not as much high-voltage magnetism here as there should be, it's still by far the best jukebox musical ever.
Songs by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, presented by Broadway San Jose
Through: July 20
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose
running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $43-$103, 866-395-2929, www.broadwaysanjose.com