Produced a number of times locally in recent, pre-pandemic years, the musical “Jersey Boys” has proven ever-popular.

Subtitled “The Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons,” the show’s blend of gritty storytelling with classic songs, many written by the late, Maine-connected Bob Crewe with Bob Gaudio, wraps nostalgia up in a highly entertaining package.

The Westbrook Performing Arts Center was enlisted last spring as the site for the latest production when scheduling uncertainty forced the Maine State Music Theatre to temporarily move its large-scale shows out of its home base in the Pickard Theater at Bowdoin College. The Westbrook auditorium may not quite possess the charm of Pickard, but, when the show must go on, it serves just fine.

“Jersey Boys” will, unfortunately, constitute the entire main stage season for the Maine State Music Theatre. Other planned shows were canceled in late August, reportedly because of poor ticket sales attributed to pandemic-related concerns. So, this show became the keeper for 2021.

The masked crowd on opening night, after being checked for either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, took their seats as the lights dimmed and the story of the talented working class young men from New Jersey got underway. A mixture of streetwise bromance and F-bomb-laced melodrama that rings believable, along with the amazing music, was more than enough to draw the audience along for a ride through show-biz history.

The evolution of the group’s sound into the eventual, updated vocal group style that captured the world is fleshed out on a two-level set with bits of Vegas sparkle thrown in. A sometimes-revealed band backs it all up from behind the minimal set.

Battagliese, Skurnik, Wolf and Amira.

Fine performances from Joshua Charles Skurnik, Sam Wolf, John Battagliese and Matthew Amira enlivened the story of the famous foursome. Skurnik gave his Frankie Valli the earnest commitment of a young man willing to put up with some of the shortcomings of his mates, particularly the trouble-finding Tommy DeVito, played by Wolf as a likable tough guy caught up in a mob-infested underworld.

Skurnik’s approximation of the famous falsetto vocals of Valli mostly succeeded on opening night.  A credible effort, enhanced by a bit of electronic processing, powered “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” among other hits. He scored particularly well with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in the second act.

Each of the other members of the group got a moment or two to step forward. Battagliese is the level-headed, “golden-goose” co-composer Bob Gaudio who, along with Bob Crewe (Matt Loehr), essentially took over the popular music world for quite a few years. Matthew Amira, as the loveable goofball Nick Massi, provided some of the best comic moments in a show that brought its roughly two-and-a-half hours, with intermission, to a close with a rousing “Who Loves You.”

Tony Lawrence Clements added a bit of footnote fun as the effervescent and slightly annoying Joe Pesci in his pre-Hollywood years.

Female singers and dancers get mostly cameo moments in what is, after all, a show about boys from New Jersey. Taylor Broadard and Emily Kelly were among those who stood out in various roles. A girl-group version of the classic “My Boyfriend’s Back” was a particular highlight.

Director Mark Martino, choreographer Kenny Ingram and others have put together a thoughtful, tune-filled show that captures the eye as well as the ear and keeps the flame of the Maine State Music Theatre burning in this sadly foreshortened season.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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