The tweaked Broadway tour has returned to the Twin Cities for another engagement. It's the best yet.
I went to bed humming "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," the Four Seasons classic that has been sung by everyone from Grammy winner Lauryn Hill to actor Heath Ledger in the 1999 film "10 Things I Hate About You."
I woke up singing the same song.
That the beauty of this number has been so viscerally re-awakened for me is due in no small part to singing actor Joseph Leo Bwarie. He plays Frankie Valli in "Jersey Boys," the Tony-winning Broadway musical that returned this weekend for a spell at the Orpheum Theatre. Bwarie is simply outstanding as the group's lead singer, channeling Valli's sweet falsetto in a bravissimo turn in this jukebox musical about some young Italian-Americans growing up in a tough neighborhood in the Garden State.
The action takes place from the 1960s on -- long before "Jersey Shore" made someone named Snooki a cartoonish star. As these "Jersey Boys" come of age, some have scrapes with the law. They realize that they have only three avenues out: join the Army, join the Mafia or enter the music business. Valli, Tommy DeVito (Matt Bailey), Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia) and Bob Gaudio (Quinn VanAntwerp) choose music, trying to make a life in entertainment even as the mob remains a potential menace in their lives, thanks to Tommy's entanglements.
Director Des McAnuff's macho, swaggering production, whose story was crafted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, has been tweaked, including a rap segment at the beginning of "Ces Soirees-La" or "Oh, What a Night," delivered in French. (The song topped the French charts about a decade ago.)
This "Jersey Boys" also has more color than previous incarnations and, as should be expected from a musical that has been on tour for years now, it is a lot more polished. The transitions, for example, are studies in theatrical efficiency.
But what makes the show so fabulous is that a flawless cast delivers songs such as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "My Eyes Adored You," and "I'm in the Mood for Love/Moody's Mood for Love." I can't say enough about Bwarie, whose singing is complemented by strong acting chops. He ably shows us Valli's many moods.
Bwarie is surrounded by an equally gifted company. Gouveia's Nick is one cool player, a reserved cat who let his music do most of the talking. He invests his character with gravitas and quiet magnetism.
VanAntwerp's Gaudio is a smart boy wonder who is both keen to the creative side of the music world -- he writes "Sherry" in 15 minutes -- but also is business savvy. The actor nails both aspects of him.
The portrayals occasionally show shades of "The Sopranos" which, with "The Godfather," has probably informed the image of mobsters and Italian-Americans. And the characters exist in a world where people may are not too conversant with the tenets of feminism. The female characters, for example, all played by a chorus of three (Denyse Payne, Lauren Tartaglia and Kara Tremel) all live to serve the men of the show.
Even with passé elements, I never get the sense that I'm watching just stereotypes onstage. That may be due in part to the fact that the show really rocks.