Like many great male singers from Frank Sinatra to Mick Jagger, Frankie Valli is a fascinating cocktail of the masculine and the feminine. When the Four Seasons were at their peak, girls could hear in Valli's high, caressing voice the kind of long, slow, sweet seduction of which their own boyfriends were terminally incapable, especially after they married them. And blue-collar guys saw the toughness in his eyes, his difficulty with personal expressiveness, and they recognized one of their own.Perhaps better than the other four Frankies I've seen atop "Jersey Boys" these last few years, Dominic Scaglione Jr., the new Chicago Frankie, understands that core Valli paradox.
Others have better caught the smooth vocal sweetness and the tonal purity of the Valli sound, but the emotionally complex Scaglione, who comes from Jersey himself and has a pleasantly scrunched-up face with prominent ears, looks as though he's always slightly in pain, which is the way the real Valli looks. And the high notes don't just float out of Scaglione's mouth, they pop with the staccato of machine-gun fire. Perfect.
The only flaw in Scaglione's performance comes in "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," the most crucial number in the show. This is an unforgiving assignment because Frankie's microphone levels are cheated down before it begins and cranked up high once it starts -- the shrewd director Des McAnuff, whose inspired staging of this cheerfully irreverent history is full of brilliant tricks such as this, knows how to manipulate the fervor of the audience. On Thursday, Scaglione started out well, but he was straying from his notes toward the end, revealing an Achilles' heel that could surely be fixed with more work.
"Jersey Boys" is the biographical story of Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi and the rise of one of America's most influential singing groups to the top of the pop-music charts. The Chicago production, which the dedicated stage manager Larry Baker has kept in tiptop shape, also has a new Gaudio in Shonn Wiley, another very skillful young actor who also deftly captures a key paradox: Gaudio came out of the same neighborhood but never subscribed to its value system, and thus he could keep the band moving forward. Wiley, an excellent singer, has that cultural separation down, which contrasts nicely with the sentimentality of the authorized book.
"Jersey Boys" doesn't whip the audience into quite the same kind of fervor these days. But that's not because of any problems onstage, but because most of the core fans of this music have already seen the show, which first opened in the Loop in fall 2007. Looking around at the rather sedate crowd Thursday, I missed that excitement. But the performers -- including Michael Cunio as a new DeVito and the Massi mainstay, Michael Ingersoll, who just gets better and better -- are still reaching deep into themselves for the music. Good for them. Good for us.
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Shonn Wiley as Bob Gaudio in Chicago since Jan. '09
Experience: On Broadway in "Dracula" (2004) and "42nd Street" revival (2001). In 2009 Disney movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic."
Michael Cunio as Tommy DeVito in Chicago since April '09
Experience: Lead singer of the alternative band Reckless Place. Starred in 2001 indie film "The Fluffer." Appeared on "The West Wing."
Dominic Scaglione Jr. as Frankie Valli in Chicago since April '09
Experience: Played Valli in the Vegas Company of "Jersey Boys" and on Broadway.
Michael Ingersoll as Nick Massi in Chicago since the production opened in Oct. '07
Experience: From Chicago; in Pegasus Players' "tick, tick ... BOOM!"
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When: Open run
Where: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Tickets: $30-$110 at 312-902-1400 and broadwayinchicago.com