You have to feel sorry for the audiences at “Jersey Boys” this week. While they’re watching facsimiles of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the real deals are singing their hearts out just around the corner.
Well, one Jersey Boy at least. Valli is the only original remaining member of the chart-topping group that racked up dozens of Top-40 hits during its ’60s heyday and is now celebrating a 50th anniversary.
Incredibly, the years have done little to diminish Valli’s trademark tenor, which can still soar to a thrilling falsetto. And if he gets a little electronic enhancement along the way, well, hey, the guy’s 78 years old.
After the mandatory film montage of his career — a clip of his guest appearance on “The Sopranos” got the biggest applause — Valli burst onto the stage singing his 1978 No. 1 hit “Grease.” Then he delivered a high-energy, 2 1/2-hour show bursting with Four Seasons hits: “Dawn (Go Away),” “Save It For Me,” “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll” and “Let’s Hang On,” as well as his big solo numbers: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Who Loves You” and “Swearin’ to God.”
It was baby boomer heaven, and the crowd — who surely swelled the coffers at the bridges and tunnels — ate it up, happily joining in on the choruses of the biggest hits.
For much of the evening, the Four Seasons were relegated to a backup role, literally — sitting on chairs in darkness behind the front man. It wasn’t until the second half, when they sang along, that they evoked the silhouette and magic of the original group. Taking the lead on “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” they traded verses while performing slick dance moves.
Introducing the current lineup, who hail from California and Ohio, Valli got his biggest cheer of the evening when he declared, “Hi, I’m Frankie Valli, and I’m just a Jersey boy!”
He also thrilled the crowd when he pointed out his former partner Bob Gaudio, sitting there in the audience, along with former Four Seasons member Gerry Polci, who joined the group in the mid-’70s.
The singer’s well-honed stage patter borders on the cheesy: He introduced “Silence Is Golden” by saying that it was “dedicated to all those people in the Witness Protection Program.” But he also seemed sincerely thrilled to be making his Broadway debut near the hit musical that brought his group back into the spotlight.
OK, so only one of the actual Jersey Boys was on stage.
When Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on Broadway began a seven-concert engagement at the Broadway Theatre Friday night, Valli himself was the sole representative of the original band that inspired that massively successful jukebox musical. But no matter: 50 years after the release of the Four Seasons' first recording, its 78-year-old frontman proved a perfectly capable host for this two-hour-plus golden-anniversary party.
At the start, Valli assured the crowd that he and the current incarnation of the Four Seasons would cover "as many of the hits as we possibly can," and he did not disappoint. The set opened with a buoyant performance of his last chart-topping smash, the theme from the 1978 film version of Grease; it then dipped back to encompass everything from early singles to disco-era classics and other Valli solo favorites, notably Can't Take My Eyes Off of You, which he dedicated to the audience.
There were a few passing references to the show that made Valli's late arrival on the Great White Way all but inevitable. After the bright-voiced, bushy-tailed younger men who currently make up the Four Seasons introduced themselves and gave shout-outs to their home towns, their leader quipped, "My name is Frankie Valli and I'm just a Jersey boy." He also noted that it was a special treat to appear just "around the corner" from the enduringly popular musical, and thanked fans for contributing to its success.
But the emphasis was on delivering the hits -- and not just Valli's own. One sequence was devoted to songs from his 2007 cover album, Romancing the '60s. An unabashed nostalgist, Valli segued from a mock excerpt of a modern-day pop song -- "Do people really make love to that music?" he asked incredulously -- to a string of tunes that, he quipped, were "stolen" from him, among them Call Me, Spanish Harlem and a medley of My Girl and Groovin'.
Though Valli predictably occupied the spotlight for most of the night, he gave gracious acknowledgment and solo turns both to his musicians and his current lineup of supporting vocalists. The latter spent the first half of the concert largely in the background, swaying and gesticulating in a carefully synchronized, old-school style -- snapping their fingers here, slicking back their hair in unison there.
But the singers -- Landon Beard, Todd Fournier and brothers Brandon and Brian Brigham -- later stepped forward, bouncing through an exuberant Who Loves You before each put his own flashy spin on the refrain in December 1963 (Oh, What A Night). Valli, his tenor impressively clean and tangy, held his own, and managed to please the crowd with a few falsetto flights.
The show ended with a steady stream of golden oldies -- among them Sherry, Walk Like A Man and Big Girls Don't Cry-- followed by an encore of Rag Doll and Let's Hang On, ensuring that Valli's fellow pop preservationists went home happy.