Can't take your eyes off it 

Can't take your eyes off itJersey Boys
through May 24 at Bob Carr
Performing Arts Centre
$32-$74; 407-849-2020

The opening moments of Jersey Boys offer a terrifying glimpse of everything wrong with entertainment today: unintelligible Europop, ear-raping acoustics, derivative dance moves and cartoonish costumes. The purpose of this pain is to show how the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is still "ubiquitous," even in France, where "Ces soirées-là" (a remake of 1963's "Oh What a Night") was a hit in 2000. So sit still through the brief burst of awfulness. The adults will be out in a moment to send the kids away and show us how it was done in an age of smart suits, heavenly harmonies and understandable lyrics.

This road company of the multi-award-winning 2005 Broadway musical travels with all the elements that have made Jersey Boys a worldwide hit fully intact. First, the songs: Even if you don't think you know the Four Seasons (or songwriters Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe) you do. "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll" and "Walk Like a Man" are practically in our musical genetic memory; hearing them performed, as they are here, with passion and note-perfect precision provokes nearly Jungian joy.

Second, the story: a rock & roll Rashomon recounting how four fellas from Joisey made it from the street corner to the top of the music biz, only to stand in the shadow of the Beatles and see their friendships crumble under financial strain. The earthy and efficient book (by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) gives each group member a "season" to tell his side of the story.

Tommy DeVito (Matt Bailey), a two-bit crook from Belleville with big ambitions, exits the revolving door at Rahway State Prison and assembles the group from neighborhood friends. DeVito hustles through the '50s for their first successes, and then runs afoul of friends with vowel-ending last names who funded the foursome in exchange for a four-figure vig. DeVito finds Bob Gaudio (Josh Franklin), a songwriting wunderkind (he wrote the hit "Who Wears Short Shorts" at 15 and dropped out of high school to tour) whose work with flamboyant producer Bob Crewe (Jonathan Hadley) brought the Four Seasons to the top of the charts. Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia), the deep-voiced bassist, is torn between his two loves — music and the bottle — and constantly muses about starting his own band. At the center is Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie; Graham Fenton on matinees and Sunday evenings), whose angelic voice made their music indelible; his dueling relationships with "big brother" DeVito and "little brother" Gaudio drive the wedge that ultimately splinters them.

The third element: the cast, obviously not the originals but you'll be hard-pressed to notice the difference. Many are vets of the Broadway and Vegas productions, and all are so polished it's hard to single anyone out (though Bwarie elicited a rare midact standing ovation with his rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You").

The biggest star of the show is director Des McAnuff, who has taken the seamless staging style he pioneered in The Who's Tommy and honed it to clockwork perfection. Against Kiara Zieglerova's Rent-esque steel-girder set, Howell Binkley's Tony-winning lighting and Michael Clark's witty pop-art projections, McAnuff stages a perpetual-motion pageant of silently gliding props and scene transitions. While choreographer Sergio Trujillo confines the explicit dance steps to realistic contexts, McAnuff's blocking makes every book scene a ballet, with the slightest background movement marked and measured.

It's so slick that some sensitive emotional moments end up slightly stripped of spontaneity. But when the first act climaxes with a spectacularly simple illusion that places you onstage behind Boys, staring into a sea of stage lights and flashbulbs, all flaws are forgotten in a flood of theatrical wonder. This marvel of theatrical craftsmanship is not to be missed; when the tour leaves town, you'll be "Beggin'" in vain for them to "Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer)."


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